Published on 12th February 2014
For seventy years, kids from the hilltop village Vunaspef on Vanuatu’s Santo Island have had to walk hours to get to their nearest school – Saint Michelle near the coast. This week, the Millennium Cave School Project celebrated the opening of a new local school, which will serve all eight villages in the area.
The school was made possible by the success of Millennium Cave Tours (MCT), a five-star tourist attraction owned and operated by the Andikar family: Manager Samuel Andikar’s grandfather was Saint Michelle’s founder.
MCT takes adventurous travellers on four-hour tours of the forest and cave system of the Island, and has become one of Vanuatu’s top attractions, with a five-star rating on Trip Adviser. In the years since MCT launched, Volunteer Service Abroad, with support from NZ Aid, AusAID and TVET, have worked closely with them. Turnover has grown fourfold since 2012, and the profits have been used to build two kindergartens and fund youth and women’s associations, while increased visitor numbers have provided a new market for handicrafts and food. The new school is its latest success.
So far, five VSA volunteers have been involved in the project: Dianne Hambrook (website development), Eric Thorne-George (track maintenance), Jim Bennie (operations), Karen Henry (desktop publishing) and Dave Morgan (safety) – and Dave plans another trip in the near future.
VSA Vanuatu Programme Manager Andrew Johnston says Millennium Cave Tours “is such a good example of collaborative, community-based economic development that works.” It is sustainable development, he adds, which “has visible benefits to the community and has used VSA volunteers really well.”
The school’s opening was a community celebration with kastom dancing, plenty of food and a blessing by a priest from Saint Michelle. MCT manager Samuel Andikar’s speech was particularly touching, Andrew says, with its emphasis on unity. He said, “people have known this place as a place where there are flying foxes and wild pigs now it will be known as a place with education.”