In July, 2013, my children and I were fortunate to be able to travel to a small Island in Vanuatu called Tanna to run the yearly school camp for the Kapalpal Christadelphian Primary School. There were 11 of us in total that went to help with the camp, myself and our three children, Talecia 16, Sean 15 and Travis 12. David and Naomi Richards and their four – Joseph 16, Sophie 14, Laura 13 and Mary 11 and Rosie Miles.
Our adventure began at Tanna airport where Uncle Terry Nutter met our group with 2 utes. The kids were so excited to be travelling to the school in the back of a ute. He, my sister Naomi, her husband David and Rosie Miles piled into one ute with all our luggage, while the children and I went in the other. Uncle Terry told us all to put our jackets on, even though it was quite warm when we started off. But we were definitely glad to have them on as by the time we arrived up at the school night had fallen and in the mountains it is substantially colder than down in Lenakel.
On the way up, the other ute stopped to pick up some more people who lived at a small village not far from the school (so we were told, but later we realized that it was a 2km downhill walk to their village – which they did in the dark!). But what made this group special was one of the young woman had just had her baby and was taking her home.
We arrived at the school in the dark, all tired but excited, after waving and saying hello to every person we passed on the way from the airport. There we found Aunty Karen, Aunty Jan & Uncle Steve Harrison and some of the school children who had been waiting for us to arrive. The children were all very shy to start with and it was interesting to see our children all wanting to make friends with them straight away.
It was too dark to set up tents that night so we all slept in the grade 7 classroom which was fun. We just needed to be up and packed away again by 7:30 in the morning when the school children begin arriving for the day.
Our first morning dawned clear and blue and everyone was so excited to start meeting everyone. All the school kids were extremely shy to start with but that didn’t stop our lot all joining in.
The first day we were there was a normal school day, but we did projects with the Grade 3 class that wasn’t going to be attending the camp and Rosie with Talecia’s help started the hygiene programme for the children.
It was so wonderful to watch all these little faces light up just washing their hands with soap and cleaning their teeth. (There were even showering demonstrations over the weekend at the camp, both for the boys and the girls in the newly completed shower block which our group was fortunate to be the first to be able to use.)
The school camp started the next day, everyone was so looking forward to it. We started each day singing Bible songs. Joseph had brought his guitar, Laura her violin and I had my flute so we had a ready made band with us to assist with the singing. They just love singing and the joy of singing is evident with all the children.
We then had Bible readings and a lesson. Our camp theme and the Bible lessons were taken from the story of Noah.
After the lessons we had various crafts organized. The children all embroidered their names onto their own towels that they then used and loved, especially the boys. The boys really took to embroidering and even came in when the girls were doing theirs and finished them off for them! We did necklaces and bracelets with beads, representing the rainbow and red, orange and green ones from a talk Naomi did with the children about being Godly and in control of your actions.
Outside there were games with a parachute and bubble blowing as well as projects, origami and friendship bracelets.
It was a very busy four days but just so rewarding working alongside these beautiful children who are so keen to learn about God’s word and do everything you ask of them. There was no complaining or unkindness anywhere.
During the camp we did a hike down to the beach, an amazing beach of black sand.
The children climbed coconut trees for us to bring down fresh coconuts which they cut with their bush knives for us all to enjoy.
We also went through the village where the young lady lived who had just had the baby. The baby’s name is Grace. We saw mother and baby and said hello again which was wonderful.
The hike was 2km straight down with 2km coming home – straight up! You had to watch your footing most of the time.
Half the kids ran both ways but when we all got back to the school in the afternoon we were definitely tired. We sat in the fieldworker room and began to look through our photos when we suddenly we heard something outside. All the local boys were playing football again! We couldn’t believe it. But I guess they are definitely used to walking that distance every day.
We were fortunate enough to have a clear day to go out to see the nearby volcano, Mt Yasur.
So amazing and such an awesome experience to see God’s power so close. On the way we picked up the wife and son of one of the school teachers. They had never been to the volcano and each time a group goes out there Aunty Karen tries to ensure some of the locals get to see it as well. We sang all the way there and then all the way back again. I think we arrived back at the school hardly being able to talk at all!
Before heading to the school and while in Port Vila, Aunty Karen has to organize all the food for everyone for up to 3 months. This is because you can really only get fresh fruit and vegetables and very fresh meat in Lenakel. But we all ate like kings. Each day Aunty Jan would make a veritable feast for lunch and tea. I have no idea how she managed to do that, with just tinned food and the vegetables Uncle Terry got from the markets. We were blessed to have a baker in a village nearby so we always had fresh bread which was wonderful toasted each morning. Uncle Terry would set off on foot at 6am a couple of days a week to hitch a lift into town from a passing truck to bring back fresh food for us all.
One day he even managed to bring back a huge poulet fish and a bat!
Yes a bat which the Ni-Vans loved. I wasn’t quite up to trying the bat but Uncle Terry and Uncle Steve both enjoyed some.
It was truly a wonderful experience for all of us. Our children really experienced what it was like to live so close to nature, without all the mod cons made possible by electricity. Really back to basics, heating the water for your shower over a fire, washing clothes by hand and hoping the day would be fine enough to dry them. Just being with these gorgeous children who are so happy but have so little. It really shows us what we don’t need in life and what things are important.
All of us benefited greatly from spending the week with the school in Tanna. We have all built wonderful friendships and our children are going to keep in touch with the children at Tanna by mail. Naomi had all the children write a letter about themselves and she has taken them back to Heritage College in Lake Macquarie (Newcastle) and will have the children at the school correspond with the children in Tanna.
We were all so sad to leave. Soph tried to hide behind a group of girls so she could be left behind and Talecia cried all the way back to the Airport. It is a time that none of us will forget and the kids are all saving again so that they are able to go back again. It has given them a taste of what it is like to help others and in doing so it helps you even more.