PORT VILLA: A young boy kicks a ball as his father searches through the ruins of their family home in Vanuatu’s capital.
PORT VILLA: A young boy kicks a ball as his father searches through the ruins of their family home in Vanuatu’s capital. DAVE HUNT

Community rallies to help Vanuatu cyclone victims

A WIDGEE business and the Gympie community have banded together to aid Vanuatu communities in desperate need.

Satellite phones, housed at an online retailer based at Widgee, were the only ones available to humanity charity Oxfam to ship out to Vanuatu communities devastated by Cyclone Pam at short notice.

Sat Phone sales director Kevin White was approached at the last-minute to help Oxfam ship the equipment.

It was an urgent request as the charity worked to have some kind of communications re-established in the cut-off island nation.

The plan was for the equipment to be quickly transported to Brisbane to make a Royal Australian Air Force flight destined for Vanuatu last Sunday.

Like several businesses in the country, Mr White had the equipment - the challenge was getting it to Brisbane to make the flight out by 7pm that evening.

The difference between Mr White's business and others was that his community jumped at the chance to help.

Gympie-Cooloola Rotary members Janell Cox and Gay Lohse managed to get a hold of fellow member and director of Nolan Meats Terry Nolan to help move the phones.

Nolan transport team leader Peter Ryan said there was a truck bound for Brisbane by 3.07pm Sunday.

Mr White said it was Mrs Lohse who "took ownership of the problem" from there on, and did everything she could to get the equipment to where it was so desperately needed.

But it seemed getting the equipment to Brisbane was just never going to be easy. But that didn't stop Mrs Lohse.

Unfortunately, they missed the Sunday afternoon truck, even thought it left 45 minutes later than expected, and with the next one not leaving until midnight, Mrs Lohse drove to "catch" the early truck.

Fortunately, driver Steve Keating agreed to take an extended "toilet break" and wait for Mrs Lohse as she made her way south to find him.

HELPING CYCLONE VICTIMS: Peta Williams helps organise satellite phones bound for the cyclone ravaged island nation of Vanuatu.
HELPING CYCLONE VICTIMS: Peta Williams helps organise satellite phones bound for the cyclone ravaged island nation of Vanuatu. Greg Miller

All the while, time was ticking - they had to get the equipment aboard for a 7pm RAAF flight to Vanuatu.

The parcel was exchanged at 5.30pm and Mr Keating delivered it to the airport around 6.45pm.

Mrs Lohse said it was an unbelievable team effort that got the gear to Vanuatu.

"The gentleman from Oxfam was truly relieved and very appreciative," she said.

"That was an example of communication and networks through Rotary and business connections.

"Once again we see Rotary in action albeit, in a small way.

"The fact that these phones were not available anywhere in Australia except at Widgee with Kevin White who holds stock is unbelievable.

"It's also unbelievable that a number of transport companies could not deliver outside their boundaries and a number were not able to be contacted on a weekend.

"All in all an excellent outcome."

Meanwhile, Sat Phone sales representative Peta Williams said she had already received inquiries for nearly 100 satellite phones to head to Vanuatu - parts of which remain isolated.

Mr White is now negotiating to send more equipment to the cyclone-torn country.

Gympie Times


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