A moving Village Experience

But more than opening their homes to us, the people of the Paonangisu opened their hearts to us with their greetings, kind words, singing, gifts and in the end, the emotional farewell, handshakes and tears as we made our way back onto the bus at the end of the day. The impact on all of us will be lasting.

Monday 30 September 2013

Port Vila – Supporters Tour,  Day 4

A special highlight of the Supporters Tour was always going to be the trip to the north of the island – to Morinda’s village of Paonangisu (Pow-nan-isu)


The idea of a “Village Experience” began with an initial inquiry to Morinda back in May this year.  “Do you think your village might be interested in hosting a day for those attending the Supporters Tour?”, I asked.

The low-key, quiet, typically Ni-van response was … “yes … maybe”

In the end, the result was far beyond anything any of us could have imagined and the meticulous planning of the local Presbyterian church committee was evident in every aspect of the day.

The sunny weather was kind, along with the involvement of the broader Paonangisu community, who literally opened their homes to our band of 33 who arrived on the big 34 seater school bus just 10 minutes late at 10:40am after the hour and a half drive from Port Vila.

But more than opening their homes to us, the people of the Paonangisu opened their hearts to us with their greetings, kind words, singing, gifts and in the end, the emotional farewell, handshakes and tears as we made our way back onto the bus at the end of the day.  The impact on all of us will be lasting.

The day’s schedule began with a visit to the local primary school, where all the children were hard at work with their lessons – until we got there of course.  It must have been a funny sight for the kids and teachers, as all of us curious white-folk wandered around looking in each classroom and the library then around the playground, coming rest finally under the massive banyan trees.  Morning tea of sliced fruit and biscuits was provided and in a break a few of us took the opportunity to inspect the solar power unit that was being used to run some lights, along with the photocopier and laptops; this was the sort of unit we were keen to buy for the church with funds raised from the day’s tour.

It was then onto the regional clinic and past the police outpost building which we were informed was built with AusAID funds some years earlier.  What the clinic lacked in equipment and facilities, was made up for in capable nursing staff, with another solar power unit also inspected; this time there were two, one for lights and the other for a fridge in which vaccines were kept.

The bus then took us onto the church building, with the big handwritten WELCOME sign clearly visible out the front.  A lot of village folk were sitting around in the shade waiting and there was clearly a sense of excitement and anticipation. As we disembarked from the bus the women were shepherded into one room and the men into another for the purpose of decking us out in our own Island Dress, or in the case of the men, an Island Shirt – all with a
wonderful lime green foliage pattern.  It might have been considered “loud” back in Australia, but here it seemed just right.

As we all emerged from our respective dressing rooms there was a sense that we were jostling for the group photo on the last day of a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, with laughter all around as the local youth singing group burst into song.


The singing was amazing with the harmonies, hand waving and smiles lifting us all.

Welcome speeches by Elder Kalmaire and Elder Morris made it clear that this was indeed a very special day in the life of the village and church – the Presbyterian church appearing to be very much at the centre of village life and activity.

One comment by Elder Morris that resonated with all of us is paraphrased here …“for seventeen years buses have been travelling past our village on the main road [doing the Round Island Tour and other tourist activities] but today is the first time a bus has ever stopped at our village and we welcome you with all our hearts”

After an amazing lunch, prepared by the women of the church, we were then treated to weaving and coconut cutting demonstrations.  It was then time for our large group to be divided up into small groups of five and placed in the hands of a “first-time” local village guide and resident who led their charges through, around, over and into every aspect of the village.  Meanwhile I conducted a very well attended Mud brick, low smoke stove demonstration with bags of clay collected earlier by the men and boys.

In hearing the emotional accounts of the day’s activities back on the bus and later in the evening, one person related the story of their guide who, just before taking his group into his modest house, explained that … “maybe you sleep on a mattress, but I do not need a mattress, all I need is some small money to buy soap, some food, clothes and pay for my children’s school fees.  We are happy with everything we have”

It was a moving experience for everyone.

Pretty soon it was time to gather back in the church, where we were treated to more wonderful singing.  In addition there were farewell speeches and individual presentations of woven bags for everyone.  From our end, we presented a guitar – purchased with funds raised from the day, along with an IOU for the projector and solar panel unit.

Come 3:30pm when it was time to go, the line of people ready to shake our hands and say farewell must have gone for 100 metres.  It stretched from the door of the church all the way down the church path and along the road to where the bus was parked.

There were tears on many faces as we departed, in particular from the little kids who wanted to get on the bus with Cathy and Sian.  They cried so much that Cathy and Sian began to cry which then set off the women standing around the kids who also joined in the crying.  There was also Morinda’s mother who walked beside me the last 50 metres or so to the bus, wiping away tears and not really able to speak.

It was a very emotional time and in talking with Morinda later she said that when the bus had gone everyone met back in the church for a very emotional “de-brief”.

As a postscript, on Tuesday – the day after our return from the Village Experience, we did some more research on solar panels and the best way forward.  Pretty soon we were talking with Batick from VanGlobal Industries in his shop at the back of the Pt Vila police station, who had installed the school and clinic solar systems and knew very well what the church needed.   After further consultations with the church leaders we ordered a system roughly twice the size of what we had originally thought, with the Supporters Tour members eager to contribute more money to ensure it was done property.     Batick
has been in business 8 years, designs and installs systems that meet local requirements, will install it all free of charge and can do it within a few days!

With all that’s been happening this week … this Ships Log has taken me 5 days to write and send … truly a record!  All being well, a summary of other news can be shared more promptly.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and truly a moving Village Experience

Rob Latimer

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