Mattie is from Wellington and is currently on a VSA UniVol assignment working in Vanuatu as a Youth Worker with Northern Care Youth Centre (NCYC).
Published on 3rd October 2011
Imagine turning up to your first day of volunteering and finding out your counterpart had just resigned? This was my first day working at NCYC. Luckily though, within a few weeks Charlie Johnson was appointed Youth Centre Supervisor and I don’t think I could have gotten a better counterpart.
Charlie is from Ambrym, an island South East of Santo. He comes from a family of three sisters and two brothers who he sees when he goes back to his home island for Christmas each year. Charlie came to NCYC in 2007 and became a Peer Educator, meaning he went out into communities and talked to people about issues such as sexual health and drugs. He now looks after the Youth Centre. He organizes events, ensures clubs run well and is the go-to-guy for anything Youth Centre related.
Working with Charlie is great as he always wants to learn new things and is really enthusiastic. He is also lots of fun and will always have a story up his sleeve (especially helpful when you’re sitting around waiting for a meeting to start!). Charlie often tells me kastom stories (normally myths and legends) from Ambrym. These are stories about how people communicated on different parts of the island, how the first coconuts were found or how Ambrym got its name. After each story, he’ll say, “How many kastom stories have I told you now Mattie?” and make me recall every one he’s told me so I won’t forget. I exchange his stories for tales about Maui, like how he tricked Mahuika into giving him all her fire, or sometimes just tell him things about life in New Zealand, like what a winter with snow and hail feels like!
In his spare time, Charlie is a keen gardener. Banana, limes, pawpaw and pineapple grow in abundance in the front of his house as well as taro and manioc out back. He often brings bananas and pawpaw to work, and won’t let you leave his house without a bag overflowing with limes.
As much as Charlie likes NCYC, he wants to eventually return to Ambym for good. He always says, “When you come back to Santo, you’ll look around and ask everyone ‘Where’s Charlie?’ and they’ll all say ‘He’s gone back home, to his island.’” This works for me though, it sounds like a good excuse to come back to Vanuatu in the future and visit Ambrym!
Thanks to everyone who took part in Project Friendship. It is your support that enables me to volunteer at NCYC and work with Charlie.