Seven hand-picked Māori and Pasifika students enrolled in EIT trades programmes are gearing up for the trip in a lifetime, helping to rebuild medical centres in Vanuatu after its lashing by Cyclone Pam earlier this year.
The plumbing, electrical, carpentry and automotive students will leave New Zealand in late September and spend 10 days in the island nation.
Accompanied by EIT tutors, they will re-roof and re-clad a health centre in the remote village of Paunagnisu and upgrade a medical centre in Erakor in the south of the island group.
The students are from a Manakura group, an EIT initiative supporting Māori and Pacific Island achievement. Over the last two years, groups of students, identified for their leadership potential, have participated in training sessions in Waiouru and Aramoana and Todd Rogers, EIT’s head of school for trades and technology, says the upcoming trip to Vanuatu will also extend the students taking part.
“It is such a good opportunity for these young people. We will sleep under the stars for the first few nights until we get the roof on the building at Paunagnisu, and will be catering for ourselves, eating rice, fish and from army ration packs.
“The students will work from 5am and stop for a couple of hours to avoid the hottest time of day. After a few more hours work in the afternoon they will play soccer with the villagers.”
To prepare for the trip, they are meeting every weekend to learn pidgin English.
“You get a better response if you speak the local language,” Todd explains.
The students are also being briefed on island culture and medical requirements for their trip and are undertaking training in construction.
Major sponsors – Skills Organisation, MITO (the industry training organisation for the motor industry), the Certified Builders Association of New Zealand, ITM and the EIT Students’ Association – have contributed $12,000 towards the cost of the venture but Todd points out that a further $14,000 is needed.
He and carpentry programme coordinator Steve Spooner, who have both worked in the islands while serving in the New Zealand Army, scoped the work needed on the targeted facilities on a recent fact-finding mission to Vanuatu.
Sweeping across the archipelago in March, Cyclone Pam claimed 16 lives, demolished buildings and flattened crops. Paunangisu is located on the coast hardest hit by the category five storm which unleashed winds of up to 300km/h.
“There were stories of families digging holes and lying in them to shelter from the cyclone. Its ferocity was such that it blew shipping containers around like cardboard boxes.”
Todd says the health centre in Paunangisu is a significant community facility, serving Vanuatu’s northern and outer islands.
“As well as re-roofing and re-cladding the 119sq m building, we will construct a new kitchen and provide an eating area for the centre.”
The 72sq m structure in Erakor will be upgraded to better withstand any further cyclones and to meet the requirements of New Zealand’s building code.
Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health is covering the cost of repair materials while the EIT team is taking tools to augment those being provided by the country’s defence forces.