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Published: February 7th 2011
The Sun really wears you out on these rides. The little ones are Willie Boi's kids
I joined Project MARC in Vanuatu for the first time in August 2010 on the recommendation of a good friend and previous volunteer; although I had travelled a great deal in the past, I had no idea of what to expect or of the truly unique experiences I would have there with the Ni-Vanuatu people.
I was taking time out of British doctoring, ready to get away from the tick-boxing and medical bureaucracy often rife in Western training. I was keen to get to the heart of a community project, help in anyway possible regardless of role and be part of a something that had significance on a very local level. Becoming involved in building the Joseph Mape dispensary on the West Coast of Santo was just that. From days' treks through the bush recruiting manpower and support, to the daily physical work on the building site, there was an ongoing engagement with the community on how to create the health resource they wanted, and most importantly, would use.
Aside from the overriding issues of funding and fraught logistics of transporting volunteers and supplies to such a remote location, there were endless parts to the construction of the dispensary
One of many..
Hiking to Kerepua and Elia one morning to beat the heat.
alone, given such little equipment and resources being available. Acquiring bricks for example, required us to first make a mixture from heavy bags of sand that we carried up from the beach on heads and shoulders, then mixing it with our hands with water and cement powder. Using this and a mould, we were able to make hundreds of bricks, needing to water them for three days before they could be used to avoid disintegration. Only then could we carried them to the actual clinic site. Having to do everything from scratch though, really gave us a great sense of achievement as the dispensary began to take shape. Most valuably, building with the villagers every day and learning from their skills really integrated us within the community. I loved the times that we often ate together, played with the children during rest periods (usually getting beaten at volleyball where seemingly in Vanuatu there are no rules) and lived together, even going to church on Sundays in Island Dress!
Working also within such a naturally beautiful landscape and living within it was an amazing experience too, camping amongst animals, managing with little freshwater and learning how to prepare local foods
Carrying the load.
Blocks were carried from the fabrication slab to the site in multiple trips.
with our machetes! Unfortunately, I never acquired a taste for the local staple of yam, regardless of the number of guises I encountered it (boiled, mashed, in soup, roasted..), but I loved living off the fresh coconuts, pamplemouse, plantain, fish and sometimes bullock. On our travels, we also encountered water tarot, salad and river spinach as well as the lovely gifts from people's allotments.
I too managed to pick up some bislama, although it was usually met with laughter from the children (!) and always enjoyed the constant interaction with the villagers, feeling incredibly privileged to experience their hospitality and be allowed into their homes so warmly and openly. Despite their objective poverty, the people on the West Coast of Santo are amongst the happiest and most balanced I know.
I found the whole experience very insightful, learning lots about the appropriateness of health service provision in different cultures (reinforced also by involvement in Project MARC and The Ministry of Healths' joint immunization campaign) and working out how to address health needs that really matter, with those it affects. Above all, I feel lucky to have shared an incredible experience with some of Santo's remote communities, forming relationships
If you put them in stacks, it helps with the efficiency of watering them.
with the villagers and being part of such a positive project where everyone was on board.
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