A first-hand account of the work two charities are doing in Vanuatu

In Australia, most of us enjoy reasonably easy access to the help and services we need if we find ourselves in dire straits, from medical care to social security payments, emergency housing (though becoming increasingly difficult) to legal protection.

Having recently spent time in Vanuatu, which had been devastated yet again by cyclones, it was painfully clear to me that the locals, called Ni-Vanatuans or Ni-Vans for short, do not enjoy that luxury and this leaves the most vulnerable both exposed and defenceless. (A total of 18 cyclones have directly impacted Vanuatu since 2000).

While we were there in March, hot on the heels of not one but two cyclones making direct contact with Vanuatu in the space of just 48 hours, my husband David and I were privileged and humbled to join in the work being done by some charities to make a difference.

I wanted to share the story of the work being done in the hope it will encourage those reading to look at what they can do to help those who are not as lucky as we are in Australia.

Chains To Life Ministries – helping young Ni-Van men

We hadn’t been in Vanuatu for long when we jumped into the back of Bobby Smith’s ute and headed out to some of the poorer, inland communities where tourists rarely venture.

A Prison Chaplain, Bobby founded Chains To Life Ministries to help young men released from prison, reintegrate back into society, to understand why they made some of the poor choices they made earlier in their lives and, to help guide and support them to lead productive, free lives.

The Ministries, with the assistance of the men they have helped, also provide vital support to local communities and are currently working to provide temporary housing to those who lost their homes in the March 2023 cyclones, by putting up tents and construction of buildings.

The poverty experienced by the people of Vanuatu is confronting and difficult to see. Witnessing the struggles they now face after the devastation of the cyclones is heart-breaking but Bobby and his team are doing incredible work making a tangible difference.

What is notable about the Ni-Vans is their generally happy disposition and their commitment to pull together as a community to overcome adversity. It is this spirit Bobby has tapped into and is using to help them, help themselves.

We saw these traits in each of these remote communities as the locals worked together to ensure shelter and the basic necessities of life were provided for the most vulnerable first and foremost, including the elderly and children.

It was the same spirit of community we witnessed in Brisbane following the 2011 floods, but the Ni-Vans find themselves having to pull together to rebuild year after year, cyclone after cyclone.

Unfortunately, since Covid, travel restrictions and the current economic uncertainty, Bobby and the team at Chains To Life Ministries have struggled to receive the donations needed to ensure this work can continue, yet they continue to try with the limited resources they have.

This will prove to be critical in the next 12 months as this is how long it is expected to take for crops to re-grow ensuring food and an income source for some of the most remote communities in Vanuatu.

El Haven – supporting young pregnant women and their babies

El Haven was established to support young, unmarried, pregnant women who often face prejudice and shame, forcing them into a position where they feel they have no choice but to abandon their newborn child in the wild.

As the charity’s explains: “In Vanuatu, when a woman becomes pregnant because of rape, incest, or just poor choices, poverty and shame will often drive her to go into the bush, have the baby and abandon it to die”.

El Haven was developed with the ambition of building a refuge where young Ni-Van women can be supported during their pregnancy through to birth. Upon completion, the El Haven refuge will not be an orphanage, but will help the women reintegrate back into their villages and facilitate the adoption of the babies into approved families.

Why they need help

The charities working in Vanuatu, often do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations. Of course, there are some disreputable ones, so it’s best to do your research. Chains to Life Ministries is a registered NGO and reports to a Board ensuring accountability at all times.

Given the local economy is again fighting to recover from cyclones, locals are pouring any funds they have into getting housing and basic amenities working for residents and rebuilding the economy.

If registered NGOs do not receive help from people like you and I, they will not be able to carry out the incredible work they are striving for.

If you can help, please do. No matter how small your contribution, it will make a positive and meaningful difference.

To get in touch with Chains to Life Ministries, visit their website – chainstolifeministries.org. For El Haven, their website is elhaven.com