On Vanuatu’s Epi Island, the people appear happy.
They’ll welcome you into their home, hydrate you with coconut water, and make sure you’re smiling too.
But through the smiles, you can see the struggle.
It’s clear that many don’t have much, and when a natural disaster strikes they are left fighting for their livelihoods.
When we met people on this island, they were overjoyed at seeing New Zealanders – they are grateful for aid assistance New Zealand has provided in the past.
Recently, the government of Vanuatu admitted it will need international assistance helping to evacuate and relocate the 11,000 people who call the volcanic island Ambae home.
New Zealand has so far spent $2.5 million on aid for the people of Ambae.
When Cyclone Pam hit the country in 2015, it decimated buildings and crops.
Ninety-six per cent of fields in affected areas were destroyed, and total economic damage totalled 64% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Epi witnessed the full force of ferocious Pam.
Oli and Marie Charlie’s home was destroyed, and they had to live in a shelter.
“We need people to help us, our homes are gone, our houses are gone,” Marie said, recalling what it was like.
Asked about which country helps out more in situations like this, Oli replied: “I think it’s more from New Zealand. The Vanuatu government gives us some help but not like New Zealand.”
The Chairman of Island Chiefs, Chief Parakulwo, says his people are glad to have New Zealand help, and hopes our country can help build Epi a new hospital.
“We need more New Zealand government to come in,” he said.
The New Zealand Defence Force has been on Epi Island – as part of a separate combat exercise – carrying out a medical and dental programme.
It’s returned to the island it actually went to help, in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam.
“We’re quite fortunate in New Zealand to have services where Vanuatu doesn’t, and I think this strengthens our international relations”, said Lieutenant Hao Wu, a dentist with the NZ Army.
So while the people of Epi Island don’t have much, they thank New Zealand – and will no doubt welcome any boost in foreign aid spending by our government, to theirs.
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