You may of may not have heard of the tiny nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, but earlier this year it was hit with a devastating Cyclone with the gentle name of Pam that flattened most of this beautiful country and left huge amounts of cleaning up and rebuilding to be done. Winds peaked at over 320 km/h and were strong enough to uproot huge trees, level whole villages and destroy the majority of this poor countries food supplies.
In what seems like a lifetime ago, in 1997, I was lucky enough to spend 6 months with the people of Vanuatu when I did my first stint as a volunteer there. The experience was life shaping and the kindness and generosity shown to me at that time was never forgotten, so when the opportunity was presented a few months ago to head back over to do some post cyclone relief work I jumped at the chance. The invitation came via a good friend who is a builder in Sydney and who had discovered an opportunity to help an organisation that was rebuilding and replacing damaged homes. This organisation had come up with a clever low cost home design that, with the help of sponsors and donors, could be built for around AUS$1300 and importantly would be built to withstand any future cyclone.
So off we set, leaving wives and kids back in Australia, to spend 12 days working alongside locals in helping with this valuable work. We repaired roofs, painted, worked on a factory that will train locals on how to build the houses themselves, and got to build this small house (pic above) for a disabled boy in a small remote village. Aside from the physical building that took place, the other building that happened and that was far richer, was the building of relationships with these beautiful, joyful and resilient people. It’s hard not to sound cliched but it happens every time without fail…you head off thinking you have something to offer and something to give and you soon realise that you have just as much to learn and to receive and that without that transaction there would be little point to any of it. You get the chance to meet these kind, loving people who have so little in material terms but know a level of contentment and peace that those closer to home seem to never achieve.
So despite being weary and a little sick from my adventures, I am back at work now and more than ever am convinced of the richness that is inherent within travel. When we invest our time and resources in the lives of others and in understanding the ways that other people live we always come away richer and more complete people for it. There is opportunity and need all around us and no shortage of countries that will welcome your skills and willingness to help with open arms. Let me encourage you to consider combining volunteering and travel and you will open yourself to a truly rewarding and inspiring experience.
By Scott Ricketts