Loving the Melanesian Children with the Tanna Movie: Tanna Island, Vanuatu

I listen to the radio station NewstalkZB (http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/) in the mornings on waking up and driving to work. I love Mike Hoskings-that guy is so smart and witty and provides such deep insights to a lot of issues in the local and wider communities. I love the guy even though a whole bunch of kiwis couldn’t stand him! Truly, my most memoral interviews from him include the great stuff up from New Zealands dairy industry with the milk from the giant Fonterra Co-operative overseas in 2013! He slammed the competency of the CEO of Fonterra after suspected botulism causing bacteria were found in safety tests in which the products were being sold on across seven different countries in the form of infant formula and sports drinks. This was huge news! The word “incompetency”he used to describe the staff responsible at Fonterra. On a much softer tone, my other memorable interview was with Andrew Adamson, the Director of Mr Pip while they were filming on the set in Bougainville. I remembered Andrew reflecting on how he had waited to pass time on the island as they were waiting for equipment to arrive-they were making fish hooks from old rusty nails on the beach!

Recently, the host Larry Williams interviewed Julianne Hickey, the Director of Caritas Aotearoa NZ who had an alarming announcement-more than 4 million people in the pacific are currently without food and water!(http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/news/health/serious-food-water-issues-in-pacific-report/)! No doubt most of these are our children! My heart sank. Again. How did that come to happen? Recently, we have had two major category 5 cyclones-Pam (Vanuatu) and Winston (Fiji). Both were deadly and devastating for our people followed by the extreme seasons of El Nino and La Nina. God what are they? A part of me is irritated by the fact that some pacific people are so lazy they couldn’t maintain subsistence farming. I think of some of the local people in my village. They are lazy. Heck, why are people so lazy? It makes me angry that some of us work so hard to maintain 5 jobs (like me at one stage-I have to in order to move ahead in life as I chose to) while others practice theft because they couldn’t motivate themselves to be productive in life. Pacific is very rich-rich in everything. We have fresh water, local cash crops, sun, beaches and minerals in the form of phosphate, nickel and gold! What else do we need? Yet we lack in education to a certain degree. Yes evolving times, but I do believe that education is urgently required at our grassroots level, in the villages, at home with our families and communities to make better informed choices.

I met Dr Leanne Cameron with her Accountant husband Matt who had served for 6 months in Vanuatu on the island of Tanna for coffee chat in Wellington. Dr Cameron spoke to Radio New Zealand International and here is what she had to say: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/world/306899/vanuatu-kids-die-of-‘common-illnesses’ It was so heartbreaking for me to learn about our children. I thanked them both for their tireless service to our people. Yes I was emotional. I later recieved news that more than 20 children have died in Vanuatu alone from being so malnourished as a result of the residual effects of the climate change and of course the cyclone. I had to do something-there was no way I wasn’t going to shed light on a very serious situation that needed urgent attention right on our doorstep!

Planning began. It was extremely busy maintaining a full time job and trying to organise a community fundraiser that was so close to my heart. There were big lessons learnt from the previous fundraiser that I hosted (Bouganville Women). A little subgroup was formed and I was liaising left right and centre with New Zealand International Film Festival, The Tanna Movie Directors, UNICEF NZ and the Paramount Cinemas in Wellington. A facebook page was set up by my friend Conor Twyford and I began to build a flyer with my great friend Maureen Tait one sunday evening. My network of friends were extremely supportive in propelling the idea with me. My lovely friend Annabel Bennett worked on getting a spreadsheet organised for those wanting to help me sell tickets. I held my great expat friends closely in my heart-Conor, Annabel, Brett, Mattie and Jasmine. I wanted the Wellington Vanuatu Community to work together on this project and I should have learnt my lesson previously-to my utter disappointment, no one really came forward to give me a hand.

I remembered talking to my father on the phone very tearful about the lack of support I got from the Wellington Vanuatu Community. I sobbed while he listened from Vanuatu. He reassured me-told me it will be alright; that things will fall into place; that help will come. How does he know? He’s too far away! He doesn’t know how things work here! He doesn’t know how hard I have worked. He proceeded to tell me more that the work I am undertaking now; the fundraiser is far beyond what a Ni-Vanuatu can do on a foreign land. It is just too much. It is too intimidating. It is too scary and too nerve-wrecking for anyone else to do-It is now the work of God-a far superior being! I gathered strength from that, tidied my head space and had my expatriate friends come in to help me with the selling of the tickets. What I realised and would have meant a lot to me was if a member had sent me a text message to see how I was doing-It would have made such a huge difference. It would have really strengthen me. A little gesture like a card or some daffodil flowers or a home made baking would have made me feel that I wasn’t alone-that I was being thought of and being supported leading the project forward. That was love to me.

The 100 tickets were quickly claimed. I spoke to the Zonta Club of Mana, Wellington to ask for their support to help with 100 lolly bags for the punters. They accepted the request and helped me with some sales. I wrote three letters to the local Real Estate Companies physically dropping them off individually to the managers for some wine sponsorships (Clark & Co Ltd, Harcourts Mana and Tommys Mana-these companies were supportive of me individually with getting me into the Real Estate Portfolio). Acruity Health Ltd also supported me with the wine sponsorships in a big way-the biggest confidence boost was discussing my love for the children of Vanuatu and asking the Chief Operating Officer to consider helping me pull this event off. I had really leveraged on my networks which was even more powerful! The night of the event was a sold out of 430 seats!

That night was special-it was even more special when word got to me that the Director Martin Bulter and the Cultural Advisor JJ would love to meet me. I sobbed even more at the movies reflecting on my trip to the Women of Lamnatu, Middle Bush on Tanna after Cyclone Pam had struck (Justin Kemp from UNICEF would have contributed to that too with his experiences on Tanna with the Philanthropist Gareth Morgan). These were women who were so resilient in the face of disaster. I love them so much because they had so little yet they perservered. They shared, they laughed, they cried, they hugged, they bonded. I was so heartbroken and devastated for them all. The children were affected the most-in every way. Yes, I love them all from the very bottom of my heart and it breaks me just reflecting on the experience.

Today, the 19th of October 2016-funds were transferred to UNICEF NZ to help our Vanuatu children. It was more than 220,000 vatu in monetary funds. I sobbed quietly in the comfort of my own home being an expat. I hope the gods of the elements and the universe whisper to the children of Vanuatu that I love them so much-so very much!



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