Wendy Griffin is volunteering as a Pre-school Assessment Adviser to the Vanuatu Ministry of Education, based in Port Vila, Vanuatu. She will complete her assignment in August 2017.
Published on 18th February 2016
VSA volunteer Wendy Griffin talks about the challenges Vanuatu faces rebuilding early childhood education centres in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam...
‘’Oh Vanuatu blo mi’’ is the frequent expression from the Shefa Provincial Early Childhood Coordinator as we travel around the island of Efate. The saying has a tone of “I love you, you exasperate me and I accept you” rolled into one.
Whatever plan A is at the beginning of the day, it invariable becomes plan C or D by the end of the day. Whatever the conditions we meet on our tent delivery round of the Efate Kindergartens on a trip not long after the Cyclone, we manage to overcome it and the expression ‘’Oh Vanuatu blo mi’’ will be heard again. The phrase “Oh New Zealand” belongs to me, but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
As we all know, 2015 was the year of Cyclone Pam and our tiny little Early Childhood Care and Education Team - ECCE - was exhausted by November from travelling to conduct emotionally wrenching Psycho Social support workshops in the corners of the worst cyclone-affected areas.
Pam united us in a way no other event could and my capacity for empathy certainly has increased and given me the ability to understand and support disaster victims effectively. The vulnerability of life here shook everyone, but as 2016 kicks off, ECCE Vanuatu has launched speedily into a ground breaking phase of capacity building for recovery and sustainability.
My counterparts are six wonderful pre-school co-ordinators, (consisting of four men and two women), who sit in the six Provincial Education Offices in the six provinces of Vanuatu. In January, we were blessed with a successful bid for academic support funding from the Norman Kirk Memorial Trust to enrol six of the Pre School Co-ordinators into the University of the South Pacific here in Vanuatu. Four were enrolled in a Bachelors Degree in Education, Early Childhood, while the other two were enrolled into Post Graduate Studies.
In the meantime, as a team we are all involved in the writing of a three year Diploma in Education, ECCE Specialisation, which will begin in 2017 at the Vanuatu Institute of Teacher Education. ECCE is on a roll to be a major player in the sustainable development goal 4.2- quality education.
The pre-schools or Kindergartens took such a battering from Cyclone Pam it is hard to image if many children will be able to enrol in 2016. In two Provinces, many Kindergartens have not been rebuilt and remain under tarpaulin, tents or in temporary shelter. I am the focal point to support good people who continue to bring resources via battered or new suitcases as they come on holiday, or containers of extraordinary things that simply have Kindergarten written on the box.
These contain story books, toys, library books, scrap books, bags, baskets, games, ropes, puzzles, ex-loved treasures and lots of teddies, crayons and felt pens, amazing stickers and stationery items. I have these all heaped up under my desk or in the two battered containers outside the Ministry of Education where I work. The ECCE Team has done its best to sort, re sort, re-pack, recycle and resend to places in need and this will continue on during 2016. However, in our hearts remains the need for Kindergartens to be built back better and the snail pace of this is leaving many teachers burned out with stress, lowered moral and little patience.
We had some fantastic news last week though. Victoria University Students Association in Wellington has raised some funds for Vanuatu with advice and encouragement from Dr Pala Molisa, a lecturer from Vanuatu based in Wellington.
With the support of the University, Volunteer Service Abroad, the NZ Ministry of Education and the Vanuatu Early Childhood Care and Education Unit, funds will be allocated to the building of a multi-purpose, model kindergarten, resource library and field-based teacher training centre on Tanna.
I can hardly wait to start. The project proposal is now written and will go for approval and then down through the various channels required when building after a cyclone.