Work Camp in Land of Many Islands

A group of 38 young men from Australia and New Zealand went to Vanuatu for just over two weeks in January to refurbish a school called College Technique San Michel that caters for 400 students.

The school is located in the town of Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo, the biggest island in the country. Many of the students stay at the school during school term because they come from other islands.

The reason why the school needed support is that they only charge the parents of the students a few hundred dollars (US) a year for an education, meals and board. This means the school doesn’t have the funds to pay for materials or the labour to refurbish damaged or old parts of the school. School fees are low because the average wage is lower than in developed nations yet the cost of many things is the same as in the developed world. Things like food, cars, mobile phones, building materials cost the same in Vanuatu as in Australia. Many locals end up growing their own food due to the cost. The United Nations lists Vanuatu as one of the ‘least developed countries’ in the world (there are only 46 other countries on the least developed country list).

So all the work campers set off at the beginning of January from various parts of Australia and New Zealand and converged in Vanuatu. The group was made up of guys from six different states and territories in Australia and from different towns and cities on the north island of New Zealand.

The age range was larger than a usual work camp group with the older fellows in the group that were in their early 20s. Among those who came was a builder’s assistant from Melbourne and a tiler from Canberra who went on the trip. They had some handy tips for the refurbishment work and acted as guides to the younger less experienced fellows.

In partnership with Reledev, the group took an interest in doing work in Vanuatu after Warrane College in Sydney had built a kindergarten at San Michel in July last year.

The feedback from that project was very positive. The locals were kind and helpful, the food and accommodation wasn’t too bad and there were places to buy building materials only a few minutes down the road from the school. The only difference was in January the heat and humidity was more intense.

However the fellows adapted well, barely complained and got on with the various projects involved in refurbishing the school.

Eight classrooms were repainted, this included the ceiling, walls and doors. Two ceilings of classrooms had to be completely replaced and also the ceiling of the entire dining hall which turned out to be a huge task. A drying room for clothes was built, the small administration office had a huge interior and exterior makeover with walls being knocked down and fresh paint applied to the walls that remained. The outside of the entire primary school was repainted and the basketball court which was overgrown with weeds was cleared, repainted and the backboards were replaced.

After work the boys usually played some soccer or basketball, both of which are popular with the locals. Then many of the boys would go for a swim or go into town to buy some snacks.

Many of the boys enjoyed the trip despite the difficult conditions and learnt a few valuable lessons.

“[What I’ve learnt from this] is basically trying not to complain as much and really, just not thinking about myself. Just being more selfless than selfish,” said Josh Pangilinan, a high school student from Sydney.

“I came here to help the community and the school and to really grow in self. It’s a good opportunity to come here because it helps you to put everything in perspective. How people here, they don’t really have much, but they’re happier than most people I know who have ‘everything’.”

We need your support as so many others can benefit from Reledev’s projects. You can also volunteer on a workcamp overseas. You can help by donating to the Reledev cause. A little goes a long way.

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