On 13 March 2015, Tropical Cyclone Pam raged through the Southern Pacific Ocean and became one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Vanuatu. With wind gusts reaching 320 km/h, more than 20 people were killed, tens of thousands were left homeless, schools were destroyed and family livelihoods wiped out.
One year on, and most of the infrastructure has been repaired or rebuilt in the Pacific Island nation, thanks in part to the emergency assistance provided to communities by ChildFund Australia and our partner on the ground, Live & Learn Vanuatu. Yet the scars of Pam remain.
“Although Ni-Vanuatu people have demonstrated great resilience, there are still several issues to be addressed,” says Anze Simnovec, project coordinator for ChildFund’s partnership project in Vanuatu. “Cyclone Pam has negatively impacted almost every aspect of people`s lives,” he explains. “People were not just struggling with the rebuilding of their homes, food and water shortages, but also with the psychological scars that the cyclone has left.”
“Moreover, because people spent most of their little savings on the rebuilding of their homes, they were struggling with other things such as paying for school fees, kindergarten fees and health services.”
Enabling children to resume their education was a priority of ChildFund`s response effort in Vanuatu. To date, ChildFund has supported the reconstruction of two kindergartens in the informal settlement areas outside the capital Port Vila, giving 70 pre-school children the chance to return to school. Constructed to be cyclone-proof and with wheelchair-friendly ramps, these buildings can now be used as emergency shelters for the local community during cyclone season, which typically occurs from November to April.
Four months after Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu, destroying 250 kindergartens and leaving thousands of young children out of school, the first kindergarten to be rebuilt officially opened on 14 July, enabling more than 40 excited children to return to class.
Five-year-old Paloma was among those children whose kindy was completely destroyed by Cyclone Pam.
“When the cyclone came I thought we had lost the kindy forever and I would not see my school friends anymore,” she says. “But now we have one super nice big new kindy and I have even more friends than before the cyclone!”
Young children like Paloma were particularly vulnerable after the cyclone, since Vanuatu`s Ministry of Education does not fund kindergartens, it could have taken months or even years before the community could raise the funds to rebuild their children`s schools. This is why ChildFund Australia partnered with Live & Learn Vanuatu to help local communities rebuild two kindergartens on the outskirts of Port Vila that were flattened by the storm.
“We wanted to ensure children in these villages could get back into a normal and stable learning environment as soon as possible, without placing further financial burden on their parents,” says Anjali Nelson, team leader of Live & Learn Vanuatu. “Families couldn’t have afforded to raise the necessary funds for the kindergartens when they also have to rebuild their homes and livelihoods.”
At the official opening, Paloma`s kindergarten was recognised by Vanuatu`s National Early Childhood Coordinator from the Ministry of Education as the first to have been completely rebuilt out of 250 preschools nationwide destroyed by Cyclone Pam. Most importantly though, children are now back to school, learning, smiling, playing with their friends, and feeling safe and secure again.
“It was wonderful to see the kids so happy to be back at school and the proud community members being congratulated on their efforts,” says Anjali. “We look forward to many more happy days ahead as the recovery work continues.”
With a second kindergarten now completed and soon to reopen, our team in Vanuatu will start work on the next phase of the relief effort, supporting the families of the kindy children to restore their livelihoods.