VSA has been working in Vanuatu since 1965. Currently, our volunteers work in Luganville, Malekula, Ambae and Port Vila to improve preschool education, strengthen economic development within tourism and agriculture, and promote good governance in NGOs. VSA has a field office in Luganville staffed by an in-country Programme Manager.
Chris Smart is a Business Adviser at the Office of the Registrar of Cooperatives & Business Development Services. He completes his assignment in October 2013. View Profile
Vanuatu is situated on a volcanic archipelago of 86 islands where traditional lifestyles exist side by side with modern tourist resorts. Around 110 indigenous languages are still spoken by an average of only 2,000 people per language, making it the country with the highest density of languages per capita in the world.
The majority of people living in Vanuatu are Melanesian in what is a predominantly Christian country. Vanuatu culture retains a strong diversity derived from local regional variations and an adherence to kastom (traditional practices and lifestyles).
Meet Diane Thorne-George, Programme Manager (Vanuatu).
Vanuatu's economy is primarily agriculture-based, involving approximately 80 per cent of the population. Coconut oil, copra, kava and beef make up more than 75 per cent of total agricultural exports, with agriculture accounting for around 20 per cent of GDP. Tourism is a growth area and the largest contributor to the economy after agriculture.
Economic development: Most Ni-Vanuatu live a subsistence lifestyle and sell any surplus produce at local markets. Few opportunities exist for strengthening rural livelihoods and this is a priority for economic development.
Read how Karen Henry is working to help develop the tourism sector.
Chris Smart worked with small rural communities to develop the habit of saving and gain future access to loans.
Linda Bennie has been working with local hospitality entrepreneur John Garae to provide training for young people in the hospitality industry.
“In my view tourism is the best income earner for our people. And it’s working –
I’ve proved that it’s working!”
– Kalmar Vocor, entrepreneur.
Check out this example of the cultural shows that are proving a serious tourism draw card: the Big Nambas cultural tour.
Education: Lack of access to education, particularly in rural areas, is a big problem with declining literacy and numeracy levels and a shortage of human resources.
Jacqui Iseli worked with deaf Ni-Vanuatu, putting together a sign dictionary to help boost the self-esteem of deaf people and make it easier for hearing people to communicate with them.
Social: Ongoing social issues are centred on the limited capacity and skills of government and NGO staff to manage resources well. Improving public service delivery and strengthening law enforcement are government aims.
For the last three years, VSA has been sending univols to Northern Care Youth Centre (NCYC). Read about Matt Potts’ work with unemployed youth through music lessons.
Health: Greater awareness of HIV/AIDs threat is a health priority as well as improving resources to fight infectious diseases, primarily malaria and tuberculosis.
Mary O'Reilly has been working with the Luganville Municipal Council and the Sanma Provincial Council to improve waste management in the town and province.
We have had much fun by the fire, watching over the cooking pots…. Read More
VSA assignments usually last two years, so local language training is important. We provide basic language training (Bislama) at the start of assignments with follow-ups if necessary during assignment. Understanding local customs is vital to a successful assignment, but be aware these can change from one island to the next. Vanuatu is typical of many developing countries where people do not usually approach things head on. Talking about family and local issues is often required before getting down to discussing what you as a volunteer may want.
We ensure volunteers are provided with basic, furnished accommodation with gas facilities for cooking. Some volunteer housing relies on rainwater for water supply so be aware of your water use, especially during dry periods. In Port Vila and Santo, you’ll probably have access to 24- hour power, telephones, town water supply, internet, restaurants, public transport systems, a good variety of shops and a wider community of expatriates. If you are based elsewhere, you may have none of these. The town water supply in both Vila and Santo is treated and safe to drink, although the water is high in calcium, so it is best to boil before drinking.
Vanuatu is a conservative place and some western-style clothing is not appropriate. Loose-fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. For men, choose long pants, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved shirts. For women, dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn – sleeveless shirts are also acceptable. Don’t expose skin above the knee though, especially when attending traditional events. Women should wear shorts or a sarong and a t-shirt while swimming in non-resort areas.
Malaria is endemic in most of Vanuatu outside Port Vila and all volunteers must use malarial prophylaxis. Other precautions are still recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves / trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in malaria areas. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics. There are public hospitals in Port Vila and Luganville as well as private medical facilities with smaller health centres scattered throughout the islands. Health care is basic and you’ll need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
We provide all volunteers with a thorough security briefing and specific local issues are covered during your in-country orientation. Like many developing countries, you need to be aware of your surroundings in Vanuatu and make sensible decisions as to your personal security. Walking in Port Vila or Santo during the day is quite safe, but take care when walking alone and avoid doing this at night. Theft is common in towns, so be careful with your possessions and ensure housing is locked when empty. Bear in mind also that land ownership is complex and strangers cannot wander freely through private or empty land without first seeking permission.
There are several banks in Vanuatu although fewer options exist outside Port Vila. We open a local bank account for all volunteers once they arrive in Vanuatu where monthly living allowances are paid into. Debit cards are available for volunteers with ANZ or Westpac accounts in Port Vila or Luganville. Local currency is the Vatu. Visit XE.com for current exchange rates.
Vanuatu has two cellular providers, Telecom Vanuatu Ltd and Digicel. Coverage is generally good within urban areas, but fades quickly as your move to rural areas. International connections, though, can be unreliable, especially during the day when sent text messages can fail or take hours to get through. Economy rates for calls and texts (both international and domestic) are available so check these before deciding on a provider.
Internet connection is very limited compared to New Zealand in terms of speed and public internet cafes, although there are a number in Port Vila and in Santo. Some organisations will have internet at work, but don’t assume this for more rural areas. In some cases, it might be possible, at your own cost, to get internet connected at home.