One month on: Vanuatu smiles despite Cyclone Pam
TAPE was still stuck to glass windows to prevent them blowing out. A sign was strung from a real estate post saying "We survived Cyclone Pam. Welcome to Port Vila".
We had landed in Vanutau to distribute a small amount of aid to those in need after Cyclone Pam hit on March 13.
Everyone greeted me with hands outstretched and smiles on their faces.
It was something I did not expect after such devastation had ripped through an entire country.
We had anchored at Taloa on Nguna Island where 23 of the 67 homes were destroyed.
We had come with more than 100kg of supplies to give to the 400-strong community.
We were only the second food supplies they had seen in three weeks.
The NiVanuatu people are of humble origins and are known as the happiest people on Earth.
None of this has been extinguished by the cyclone, as they continued to be friendly and resilient in their approach.
I could not tell if houses had been destroyed as they had been so tiny there were simply no remains left, and what did stand was already decrepit.
What little they had they have attempted to reuse to start to rebuild their lives.
Twenty-two of the 83 islands sustained severe damage, leaving trees baron and crops flattened, which is making it difficult for almost two-thirds of the population.
The economy is based primarily on small-scale agriculture. Without trees and crops many are unable to make an income or even feed their families.
The trees are starting to sprout again and small portions of seeds from aid have been planted, but it will take up to two years before the crops will give people a proper income again.
Inventory was taken by a disaster management community member in Taloa and we were acknowledged for the contribution.
An elder, John, showed us around the village, pointing out where homes used to stand, showing the damage of the community centre where they huddled together during the cyclone.
John talked of two men from Red Cross who had come to help clear land, and of one disaster relief drop.
But the needs of water and food had only come from individuals supporting through "renegade aid".
It became apparent as we drove around the main island of Efate that many of the smaller villages had also been bypassed in aid drops.
Many villages have already started to clear and rebuild as they understand it is up to them.
We came to a halt at a small village near Eton that had a sign saying "we need help'.
There was already a truck there with expatriates distributing drinking water organised by Pro Medical Rescue (a local not-for-profit organisation).
Drinking containers were being left out on the road to let people know they needed water.
As we continued on the ring road this became a common sight with expats volunteering their services to deliver water.
I was told by one expat international aid was not allowed to hand out food, only tarps for shelter, building kits, cooking utensils and water purification devices.
Health checks and wound management have been a priority for Pro Medical.
Many of the children have been getting boils on their necks from the heat and lack of hygiene due to the low water supply.
For many westerners, the sight of iron sheets from roofs lying twisted on the ground, trees uprooted everywhere, and no drinking water was heartbreaking.
Many villagers had to walk kilometres to collect water as their tanks have been contaminated.
Children drag palm leaves for thatching roofs kilometres down the road to start rebuilding.
But their resilience is withstanding.
They started with little and their belief is strong that they will be alright.
NiVanuatu people have a continual smile plastered on their faces and almost always seem cheerful.
It was just another day in the happiest place on Earth as children and adults waved as we drove past.
But the stories were plenty and similar; of how homes were destroyed; families living in churches or community centres and no income.
A house-girl, Lena, did not know if her family members were alive after the cyclone for almost three weeks.
She did not hear news of their safety until a family member was able to make their way to the mainland.
She spoke of her family's village and how they felt like they were walking in another country.
But she was relieved her family was safe.
Many schools around the island are closed until further notice.
A tiny private school at Karngo had lost everything.
Yet the children played inside the fallen roof of the preschool and eagerly sang us a song to show their gratitude.
Easter was a sombre affair for the NiVan with many choosing not to celebrate.
Church services were still held but the usual camping that families did was abandoned.
The main town of Port Vila has been tidied up with some saying it is the cleanest they have ever seen, but there are many reminders of Cyclone Pam.
The Seafront Markets, where many tourists would visit off the cruiseliners or during their stay, have been completely demolished and piles of debris are gathered in clumps.
Further down the street the produce market, which is a main income for many, is not operational until they can stock it again.
It is now a waiting game, waiting for the crops to grow, waiting for the tourists to come back, waiting for the aid to be fully distributed, and waiting for the memories to fade. But Vanuatu still smiles.
To donate visit redcross.org.au and follow the links to the Cyclone Pam (Vanuatu) 2015 Appeal.
AID BY THE NUMBERS
75,000 need shelter
110,000 without access to drinking water
22 of 83 islands sustained severe damage
30 health facilities need rehabilitation
96% of crops destroyed leaving people with no alternative food stocks
Recovery efforts will last between 3-12 months
Emergency food assistance has been dispatched to reach more than 180,000 people
Almost 800 metric tons of food having been procured for the second round of distributions.
The WASH Cluster has provided 25% per cent of affected households (25,000 people) with hygiene kits. Another 8000 kits have reached a number of islands and will soon be distributed to some 40,000 people.
There are increasing cases of diarrhoea reported across Tanna.
Nutrition working groups continue their work with inpatient hospital facilities in Tafea, Shefa and Sanma to treat cases of acute malnutrition. Outpatient facilities are also being established at these sites. A two-week pilot micronutrient campaign for children 6-59 months started on April 10.
Reports that a child died in Tanna due to acute malnutrition are being investigated by the nutrition working group to determine the details and confirm whether acute malnutrition was the cause or not.
Sourced from Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office