PELE ISLAND is mother to 4 villages. There is a rare peacefulness here, a sense of bounty in simplicity. The gardens and the ocean sustain the families. They are glad every day for the sun and rain that nourishes their lives in every aspect. They take time through the day to express their gratitude and renew their source of strength in communal prayer. There is island time, no hurry, no deadline, a flow and ebb. Tide in, tide out.
Cyclone Pam in 2014, shocked the people, it put cracks in everything they have known. In 2016 they talk about it as part of broader cyclone impacting on their lives – climate change. They speak of adaptation: they have to garden differently now, consciously care for the oceans, restore the reef, build sea walls against rising sea levels, plant food trees and cut down only what is to be wisely used. What is intact is the vibrant sense of community and the people’s resilience in the face of struggle. They are used to struggle, life is basic and hard – “Struggle makes you Perfect”, is their school motto! Our experience of the Pele villagers was of bounty in simplicity, generosity and warmth unbounded.
In our days on Pele, we toured the island, saw the impact of the cyclone and listened to their stories of it. We saw the gardens where everyone in the community works daily for a few hours. We saw the new plantings of coconuts to replace those lost in the cyclone. We planted a coral garden as part of an effort to restore the reef, we gathered rocks to make a sea wall against erosion caused by rising tides. We sang and prayed in church on Sunday and before every meal – we were blessed several times a day and by so many different people in the community. We played with the children, we visited the school (now mostly Unicef tents) and the kindy. We exchanged gifts and participated in simple but meaningful ceremony almost every day. We were so thoroughly and generously welcomed by our hosts.
From the fundraising events, we made a gift to the community centre (also an evacuation shelter) and to the proposed Women’s craft centre (as a means of income for women). Every one of us feels that we would be welcomed back with open arms to this beautiful community.
On Efate, we visited Pango village and built a water tank (paid for with our fundraising effort) for a mother and her children. We snorkeled on the lovely Hideaway Island where the friendliest fish in the world live. Our hearts and minds are brimful with an appreciation for bounty in simplicity, and for the resilience of people whose lives are hard every day and yet also permeated by a sense of belonging, beauty and community. Ironically, the very things we in the west are struggling to find.
The students were perfect! They were open and courageous. They were appreciative and playful. They supported each other. They were able to place themselves into the lives of another people, to consider their own relationship as privileged westerners to our pacific neighbours, and to reflect on the significance of a visit like this in the shaping of their own lives.