What can other yachts do for Vanuatu?

Salsa af Stavsnas
Ellinor Ristoff Staffan Ehde
Fri 1 May 2015 11:40
It seems to be a question aid organisations are getting and some are frustrated that those of us who are here give so little information.
I understand from Jonathan that some emails are really "frustrated".
One of the reasons I think we hesitate, is that we have seen so few places and it is hard to give a general idea. You are also very humble when you see less fortunate people struggling in a way that few of us can comprehend. It is like being close to a patient fighting to survive and try to pass on information to others. Im sure that an experienced person can do it, but we are not.
Let me try to give you an idea that is our own opinion, might not be true. After all we are etnocentric.
Nr 1. Do not hesitate to come, nature is taking back its original shape faster that you can imagine. People are still smiling and friendly. Im sure they need your visits so they can trade things that can be useful to them. If turism in Vanuatu disappears for a couple of months their economy will be affected, Im sure, it has already. Even though their economy is so much smaller than Fiji, tourism plays a role in it. And yes, the tourist industri here is far far from what you experience in Fijis main hubs.This also means that the true adventure is waiting for you.
The advantage of cruising tourism is that if we are well prepared we do not use any of their precious resources.So make sure you have your own food. If they have anything to spare, the better, but count on prices being higher now...
Nr 2.How to donate things/food
.As far as we have seen and we have only seen two islands, this is a culture that is still affected by the nomad era.
An era that we have learned is about a tribe sharing everything. This means that if I give something to one family I can ruin the entire harmony in a village. This does not mean it is not duable, it means you have to understand that if you give away a pile of clothes to one family you might find them on others next day. Best thing is to go through the chief and always ask before you do your donation.
In Fiji for instance they will inherit their chief title, not here, they are chosen by the group, I believe that helps to get better chiefs.
The chief might point you to a disaster team or a person in charge of all the help, let that person guide you. Remember that if we ruin the culture here, next time a hurricane strikes again they might not survive as well, if we tought them to live with our technical solutions. One thing people say here is that the only things that killed people on this island was new materials. Concrete walls that fell and crushed people who thought they were safe inside a house. Not to mention all the metal roofs that flew around and cut people. We might object that a concrete house should be built in a way it can withstand a hurricane, but that is easy for us to say. A traditional house might fall apart but they can rebuild it in one week. And the palm leafs etc will disappear in a natural way. All new materials are becoming garbage making the villages uggly, Lenaka for instance looks really beaten up.
One last thing, do not come ashore like Santa Claus, make sure you understand their needs and the situation first.
If you say you have a chain saw they will tell you they need it (who would not?).
Go and see the chief first, bring a gift (kava or something else), lay that in front of him, if he takes the gift he will tell you that he accepts you and is willing to listen. Some organisation workers here think it is stupid, they are here contributing, why would they bother with traditions? Well anybody is welcome to help me if I'm in need, but I would not mind to keep some of my pride if possible?
It's not a fire where you just need to march in and blow the house full with water, it is a situation where these people feel violated by some force that have left them without houses where they can hide or live, a force that have put them at mercy of others. Can we show some respect?
Nr3. How bad is it? Here the information is a disaster in itself. One day you will learn a village has not gotten any food and next day somebody will tell they had. The day after somebody will let you know nobody knows how many people live there and same day you will find an official worker there counting heads. Most aid workers are probably doing their best, but sadly there is a competition between different organisations so information is held to their own advantage. Now when I'm here seing a close up I can understand why a govement starts to wave their arms trying to gain control. They are not stupid or incompetent, they are flying the plane and now when an engine stopped working, everybody on board knows best how to take care of it. Well whatever these organisations say, one day they will be gone again and guess who has to fly the plane on their own? I think a very interesting story could be written about the whole situation, "Behind the curtains of a disaster..." Am I questioning our own organisation as well? No, Im in the middle of it and SeaMercy is probably too small, too poor and too young to be were the big guys are playing. But Im sure we can be criticised for what we do and this is fine. Humans are like ants, when there is a problem some will rush to help, and that help can cause damages, there was one to start with and scars are inevitable.
Nr4. What to bring.
The short answer is,
If you really really want to help Vanuatus economy, buy the stuff here in Port Vila and distribute.
Help them to help themselves. Buy machetas, buy nails and hammers, good ropes and fishing lines. Spades, axes,saws and tools. Do not bring  things like flashlights, they cannot find batteries on the islands (if they can they will cost a fortune) and the old ones will end up in nature. If you want to help them, get some solar power and light for that. Again, you are not Santa Claus looking for eyes that´adore you, you must remember that you will leave garbage behind you, plastic stuff that will just lay around because nobody is used to handle that.
FYI, the Vanuatu goverment has imposed tax and customs fees again per April 15, this means that no aid comes in without charge.
The government FORBIDS your own little aid mission and impose heavy fees, they want to know about everything you do, the reason? To preserve the culture here. All rations we give out are measured to help people to survive but just that, no more. The goverment wants to make sure all go back to gardening and can provide for themselves in the future.
Despite all that negative info so far there are things to consider:
Reading glasses, can never be enough of them, that will not start a problem if you have for all that need them. I met the eye doctor in the hospital here in Tanna and he told me also to ask people to bring sunglasses as well  and teach the islanders to use them. That saves their eyes for the future.
School material- most is gone... give it to the school- not families.
Clothes, they are freezing!
Do not give out candy and sweet things to the kids, they have beautyful teeths, because they do not eat that stuff, not because they are great at brushing them.
People are healthy, because they eat what they eat, and that is not our junk stuff, consider it before you introduce it. If you have been in the rest of the Pacific you will understand what I mean, here you will not find overweight and diabetes.But there is no starving either, not the kind you have seen in Africa for instance. Life is hard yes,but does it get better efter a firework?
Medical aid, if you are a doctor or a nurse, you will find needs to be filled. You might be in competition with the "Clever", the medicine man in the village. Another reason to go to the chief the cultural way, if you have him against you the Clever will soon make sure that nothing works out. If the chief is with you, you will most probably not even find out who he is, you will only find scars from his previous healing processes on your patients. If the villagers see that you are actually making a difference (for instance our chiropractor is drowned by bad backs, probably because they can feel the difference right away), count on having a huge line next day. First day might be a few brave ones...
Medicines, you MUST declare what you intend to bring, not all medicines are approved and forget outdated medicines! Even if they work the goverment does not want to provide guinea pigs for that. Work with local doctors and hospitals, if they approve you, they will see you as a resource and might even provide medicines for your work.The goverment wants to get medical records and EVERY treatment has to be reported on a form (yes it is like home). If there is a local nurse or aid worker, let them keep control and act as a humble consultant, again, you will be gone tomorrow and they have to keep the good work going. Make sure you educate them as you you treat or show them how you see a problem....
Nr 5. Where to go
Most yachtees end up in the same safe anchorages, the ones mentioned in guide books. Comfortable of course. That is not the place that needs your help. Protected anchorages have been visited already, by officials, by aidworkers, by all.  The challenge is to go to the places you can only see on Google Earth or hire a truck and get away from your fine anchorages.
If you come from the south and want to start from Aneityum, you are in for a couple of challenges, you have to get a permit from Customs and Imigration in Vila. If so, check in with Richard. You can always stop because of an emergency situation. Richard understands.
The tougher challenge is that even if Richard is nice he has to collect 10.000 of the local currency. Make sure you have it.
Next chance is Lenaka here in Tanna, BUT there is no ATM and no bank that takes your card. You have to bring cash that can be changed in the local bank (use the short cut line when here; to change money you do not need to stand in the endless line).
Nr 6. This might all be wrong
By the time you get here things can have changed, many times. They do as we are here. So it might be good to work with an organisation that has some kind of contacts in the goverment and that can follow up your work and make sure you do not start a problem instead.
Being boat people you will most probably make it your way anyway, because , because thats why you are a skipper... right?
But this is not your playground, this is seriously a big wound on the face of the earth and we have to make sure it gets the right treatment...
And whoever is right or wrong you will sail on, just as we do, and leave this islands to the people of today and their anscestors. If they take the wrong decisions they have to live with it, but if you do it for them, they are the ones who will struggle and look at that lamp that does not work anymore, and because of that their night feels darker than before...