March 15, 2015
Thank you to everyone who has reached out to express support and solidarity in response to Cyclone Pam and the devastation in Vanuatu. I am struggling with how to craft a meaningful 'update' when the reality is, I truly and simply have no information about 95% of the people there I know and love. There are rumors of survival and there are rumors of total destruction. It could be days or weeks before an accurate picture emerges.
What I can share is a memory that is on my mind tonight.
One day I was walking between villages with an Uncle on our island of Tongoa.
"I've been thinking," he began slowly, "about all those children starving in Africa. Every year more mangoes fall down than we could possibly eat or store, and they rot and go to waste. Could you talk to someone from your country about sending planes to take all our extra mangoes to Africa?"
I sighed, and mumbled something about infrastructure and geography, and the fact that the mangoes would probably rot by the time they reached Africa, and hoped that would be enough.
It wasn't. He frowned. "But you have so much money in America. Can't the government buy some ice for the planes and that would keep the mangoes fresh until they got to Africa?"
I sighed again and fought back tears, as this mild-mannered middle-aged man in tattered, stained board shorts and no shoes shook his head in a rare display of frustration.
"It's just...we have so much to give."
In Vanuatu, when you have a piece of fruit in your hand and come across a friend or stranger on the road, you immediately cut your fruit in half and offer one half - the larger half - to the other person. If you ask any Ni-Vanuatu why this is so, they will stare at you blankly. The prospect of any other way of living is absurd.
For those of you in a position to do so, please consider making a donation to an established organization with a history of reputable service on the ground.
I can only hope to make contact with my family and friends on Tongoa and North Efate soon.
In the meantime, Lollo, I have shared your idea with the Whitemen. And they are sending planes.
- UNICEF USA - Cyclone Pam Appeal
- Red Cross - Cyclone Pam Vanuatu Appeal
- UN Women - Cyclone Pam Appeal
- Oxfam Australia - Cyclone Pam In Vanuatu
- CARE - Cyclone Pam Appeal
Amanda Prasow served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in a remote island community in Vanuatu from 2007-2009.
Tongoa Island is home to fourteen villages with a combined population of 2000 people. Its two southernmost communities, Bongabonga and Meriu, are separated from the rest of the island by a large hill and at least an hour’s hike to neighboring villages in any direction. Their mountainous topography, small population and relative isolation from the rest of the island pose significant challenges to development and healthcare initiatives. With no running water or electricity, they also have no reliable or affordable transportation to the nearest port, airport, market, and health facility. They are regularly denied government funding and overlooked by health and education outreach programs. It is simply too hard to get people or materials there, and the population is not large enough to demand more attention.
Despite these challenges, these industrious families have lived comfortably, creatively and happily on their land for generations. They are deeply committed to improving sanitation, education, and access to healthcare while maintaining their traditional subsistence-farming lifestyle.
Just a fifteen-minute walk away from each other, the two villages of Bongabonga and Meriu share one primary school, one church, and until recently, one telephone for the combined population of 120 people. Since 2003, they have sustained a formal agreement to work together for all development activities, in order to better serve the interests of their small populations.