FAQs Returned Volunteers


Riana Schoeman (Vanuatu)

Riana Schoeman was on a one-year assignment as Computer Training Advisor with the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) on the island of Ambae, Vanuatu. She completed her assignment in June 2017. 


Creating a flower garden on Ambae

Published on 28th August 2017

In her final post from Vanuatu, Riana makes a lovely analogy between volunteering and nurturing a flower garden...


I started my assignment at Torgil Rural Training Centre in July 2016 and one of my objectives was to establish a Computer centre.


The Centre closed for a few months over Christmas and I went back to New Zealand to spend time with my family in Christchurch. During my holiday, I had this vision of how beautiful a flower garden would look in front of the computer lab. I returned to Ambae island with seven packets of seeds and netting to keep the many chickens out of the garden.


DSCN3104 web

Densly, with packets of seed that Riana brought with her from New Zealand

I quickly realised that the soil was so hard that I could not plant the seeds and asked if I could get the help of the students to make a flower bed. The principal asked if the flowers would make seeds for the next year and, full of confidence, I answered yes.


The students and some of the tutors worked very hard and carried stones from all over the grounds, they carried soil in, they got sticks from the bush and put my netting and some old mosquito netting up.


The planting of the seeds captured the interest of the staff’s children. They got me a stick and as I was making holes, they planted the seeds. We used the ‘water can’ that my husband made with a hammer, a nail and an empty tin.


But from all the many seeds planted, only two sad looking sweet peas started to grow.


The flower garden made me reflect on my year on Ambae island. I realised that I started my assignment with objectives, ideas, plans, enthusiasm and energy. And often the plans didn’t work out and I had to adjust or make new plans. There were times of frustration. There were disappointments and challenges.


In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to ask the local people what the best plants would have been for the computer garden. It was a reminder that as a volunteer, you should seek out local input before you start and don’t assume that what works in NZ will work in a different culture as well. You shouldn’t get disheartened when plans fail. You should re-evaluate and make new plans. But most importantly, you should enjoy the journey and don’t be surprised to find unexpected success along the way.


ComputerLab web

The computer lab on Ambae, pre-garden


I had a great time with all the pikininis planting and watering the garden. As soon as they noticed I was pulling weeds, they all jumped in and helped. On days that I had enough energy in the hot weather, I took out plants from elsewhere and planted them in the flower garden. 


During the last week of my assignment, one of the plants produced a beautiful red flower and I also noticed there was a pawpaw tree growing. Maybe one day, someone will be able to walk out of the computer lab and pick a nice pawpaw to enjoy.


DSCN2963 web

The Ambae community pull together to help build the garden


Densly web

Densly waters the seeds planted in the garden

stones for bedding web

Ambae locals carry stones for the garden bed

pulling weed web

The local pikinini pulling weeds in the garden

pawpaw web

Paw paw plants starting to sprout

Red Flower web

A red flower blooms in the new garden



  • Ronel Visser on 3rd September

    May the garden be nurtured by the locals en to your students be a reminder of the profound influence you had on their lives. So proud of you!

  • Ronel Visser on 3rd September

    May the garden be nurtured by the locals and to your students be a reminder of the profound influence you had on their lives. So proud of you!

Post your comment

Donate to VSA

It costs money to send volunteers overseas and every dollar you donate to VSA goes towards programmes that really do work.

Donate now!

Become a volunteer

Register with VSA to find out about new vacancies. Or if you are already registered, login to update your details.

Volunteer now!