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Vanuatu: Supporting families who have lost everything

Sonia and her 14-month-old daughter Adria
Sonia and her 14-month-old daughter Adria

As I make my way through Port Vila’s bumpy streets to the Save the Children office, the horrific extent of Cyclone Pam quickly emerges.

It’s hard to find a building in the city that hasn’t suffered some form of damage, and it only gets worse as you get further out. In the rural areas, homes have been completely flattened, sheets of corrugated iron have been flung into trees and fences are strewn across the grass.

When I arrive, the office is a hive of activity. Huge bags of rice, bottles of oil and drinking water, soaps and other hygiene items are being piled and packed into groups on the concrete floors.

It looks chaotic, but there’s rigorous method being applied. More than 30 packages of aid are packed according to the specific number of people staying at each evacuation centre in Port Vila, which together house more than 3,000 people.

Soon the packages are loaded on the back of trucks, ready for distribution to families whose homes were battered by the cyclone and, with nowhere else to go, have been forced to stay in schools and other community buildings that were built to withstand massive storms like Cyclone Pam.

Knock-on effects

Every day that schools are being used as evacuation centres is also another day that children are missing out on their education. We estimate that more than 45,000 children won’t be able to go to school for the foreseeable future, either because their schools are being used to shelter those in need or because they’ve been badly damaged or destroyed.

For now though, food, water and shelter remain the most pressing needs.

At one primary school being used as an evacuation centre I met Sonia, a mother of four. A previous cyclone had ripped the roof off her family’s home; this time she took shelter at the school.

It was just as well: a massive tree branch crushed the roof of her family’s home, and all their possessions were destroyed.

A long road ahead

Like tens of thousands of families in Vanuatu, Sonia relied on subsistence farming, growing yams, corn and cassava to survive.

Now their crops have been completely destroyed, and it will take several months before they can produce again.

They’re among about 2,000 people who are receiving food from Save the Children and Sonia says they couldn’t survive without it. “It keeps us healthy, especially for the children, it saves their lives. Otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to eat.”

The food distributions are an important first step, but the road to recovery will be a long one.

By Evan Schuurman, Media Manager

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