Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Transforming Into Little Sista!

Vincent and Chief Kaisa sailed to Port Vila with us. It was
an interesting week getting to know these two men.
The main transportation of goods and NiVans between islands here in Vanuatu is on a ferry called Big Sista. Big Sista is known to carry anything and everything for a price – and the price changes each time you try to get a quote and not in your favor!
The cost of shipping a single item such as a bag of rice or flour or a box of whatever is generally 500 Vatu  (VT) or about $5.00 USD. To you and me, it is well worth the price to get goods sent somewhere.

The whole family came to see the boat.
To the out-island villagers, the price is astronomical since they have little cash and few ways to earn some. Therefore, they go without until they have someone heading to the “big city” of Port Vila or Luganville to buy things. Then that person returns bearing the burden of carrying all of the purchases.

Since our plan was to go to Avokh Island and scope out the situation and then return to Port Vila for the goods needed, we became the ferry for Chief Kaisa and Vincent. These are the two men with whom we connected in 2014 and the reason we decided to assist Avokh.
It was an interesting experience sharing the boat with them for six nights and the passages down and back. It was also intriguing to watch them navigate their way around Port Vila once we got there! 

Then it was time for them to leave so we could weigh anchor.
Even though they are an overnight sail from Port Vila, they knew many people there – extended family, governmental people, and friends. They managed to fit in a few nights with family and several nights of kava drinking with friends while we were there. They had set up appointments with governmental people so they definitely were on a mission to accomplish their tasks.

Some missions were more successful than others: Chief Kaisa met with their Member of Parliament (MP) and was able to secure 40 sheets of metal roofing for the village community building, which had been blown completely off during Cyclone Pam. The problem now was how to get it to Avokh. Big Sista charged $7 per sheet to transport it. That was the final price after they had been told both $2 and $3 a sheet originally. (But that is the way it goes in the islands!)
They did not have money for shipping or the lumber, screws, nails, etc. to put the roof on once the sheet metal made it to the island. Besides, Big Sista doesn’t stop at their little island, which is surrounded by major reefs, so they have to pay to have it transported from the loading dock on another island. The sheets of metal are too large to be paddled on a canoe for many miles so transportation needed to be worked out.

After shopping for guttering, computer and printer, roofing
materials and supplies and much more, we looked like this! 
Dennis told Chief Kaisa that we would spend 100,000 VT ($1,000 USD) to help them restore their island. All they had to do was to tell us what needed to be done and prioritize the projects before spending the money. This was an interesting concept to get them to communicate what was important and we aren’t quite sure why it was so challenging.
Eventually we did manage to get the list of needs from them. Since 500 VT for shipping a box on Big Sista seems like an unreachable thing, I think they were overwhelmed with what 100,000 VT was – and why we were offering it!

Chief Kaisa and Dennis met with Dave of the Butterfly Trust.
Part of our personal mission is to help them understand ways to work in a society were money is necessary to acquire the products they cannot produce on their island. The villagers sell fish, copra (coconut) and kava to vendors on Big Sista for cash, but it is not a lot and it isn’t a regular cash flow. The community does have some money for things, though. And some individuals receive money from family members living on the mainland islands.
No place to walk or stand. Even the galley
floor was filled so I did little cooking!
The next step was to go shopping to compare prices and set up a budget before spending any of the money. The first priority was to pay for the shipping of the metal roofing on Big Sista. The next priority was to replace the guttering on the church as it is the best roof and has a large rain water catchment cistern next to it. The current guttering is too small for the volume of rain coming off the roof and it overshoots the gutters. The plan was to remove the existing gutters carefully so they can be used on several other buildings with catchment tanks nearby and install larger gutters on the church.

Once the guttering system was sorted out and priced, the next priority was installing the roof on the community building. Being concerned about how much things were costing and how quickly the gifted monies were being used up, Chief Kaisa thought it best to use nails on the roof rather than the very expensive screws made for the job. Dennis convinced him to “invest in the future” by saying “nails vs. screws – roof blow off or roof stay on!” In the end, the roof should stay on with the roofing screws!
Vincent's sister had a "few small" boxes for us to pick up!
By the time the materials for the gutters and the roofing projects were assembled, most of the money was gone. Lumber was very expensive and would have to be shipped on Big Sista for some fee, so Chief Kaisa got on his cell phone and directed the men to start cutting wood to make the trusses for the roof. Apparently, there is one person with a chain saw who cuts lumber for the price of the gasoline, which they call benzene here. But benzene is expensive and they have no way to haul it from the islands where it is available.
Both Trillium and Starblazer had each donated a 20 liter petrol can filled with benzene so the island now has a way to have 40 liters at a time for the generators and chainsaw. We then learned that the community had used 6 liters to run the generator for the Independence Day celebration! Since no one pays for anything and it seems to be free, they just use it! Well, there will be a new approach now after we have had some time with Chief Kaisa and Vincent to talk sustainability and economics! (Later, Chez Nous gave us two more benzene containers so now Chief Kaisa can run his own petrol station!)

And a few more on another canoe!
Part of the gifted money is allocated to refill the benzene so they have a full 40 liters on the island. In the future, anyone needing benzene will have to buy it from Chief Kaisa with the money collected reserved to refill the tanks. In the past, when it was gone, it was gone and there was no way to refill. Dennis showed him what the pump price is and told him he needed to charge at least that amount so he would have the money to refill the tanks. Even with this concept, he told us he was selling it to the community building committee for less so they could get the roof lumber cut! I guess he will figure it out when he doesn’t have enough money to refill the tanks. (Sigh!)
Two happy islanders. One stuffed Hallberg-Rassy 46!
Chief Kaisa and Vincent had a list of items to purchase for villagers so they did some shopping on their own and had the goods delivered to the boat in the marina. They said there were a few things. Well, their version of “few” is extremely underestimated. Suddenly S/V Trillium looked like Little Sista! That became our name for the rest of the trip. Aboard came many bags of rice and flour (some that were leaking), piles of cardboard boxes filled with who knows what (we don’t usually allow cardboard on the board to avoid cockroach eggs!) and bags of more stuff. Every nook and cranny of the boat was filled again. And with the building materials added, it was challenging to find a place to walk and no place to sit except in the cockpit. Even the galley floor was covered!
Limona brought us a lunch of laplap.
Then as we were planning an overnight stop in Havanna Bay, we were asked to stop near Vincent’s sister’s village on the west side of Efate to pick up a few things. There is that word again: few! We found the village – it was the one where everyone was standing on shore waiting for us! Then two canoes bearing gifts came out from shore. There were so many boxes on these canoes that you couldn’t even see who was paddling. I still don’t know where we managed to stow everything, but more cardboard boxes made their way onboard!

Since it was a nice anchorage, we decided to stay there for the night. Vincent and Chief Kaisa went ashore and spent the night with family. Vincent and his sister seem very close as they are also close in age. And you could tell they were siblings by their smile, eyes and many mannerisms. It was fun to see how excited he was to get to visit her. We enjoyed giving them the opportunity to see family and friends in Efate.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see them learn western business practices. Should protect them in future dealings w the "outside" world. If they have to lose that child like innocence (and of course they do) it's great if it can be replaced w sensible, fair practices. Thanks for taking the time to write your blog!


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