As Julia happily pointed out, Les Wilson from the Dunedin North Club needs very little introduction as most members here know him well. Carrying an injury and missing the weekly family dinner, Les told us about his adventures in Vanuatu to help the local community Votlo and see if we could help in any way for the next expedition in March 2020. I don’t know about you but I have limited ability to build anything other than a cocktail however I was so inspired, I felt the urge to book the flights immediately.

Three years ago, 8 people answered the call to a tiny village 1 ½ hours from Port Vila on the Island of Epi. Their village had been flattened in a hurricane, 320 km wind. Their task therefore was to build a cyclone proof school building. A shattering 8 days, sleeping on the floor, eating slightly different food, in a heat not felt in Dunedin with a good old long drop thrown in for good measure. What an adventure and such wonderful people to help. The villagers had very little when compared to the lifestyle we all live yet they have a sense of community almost lost in our fast paced world. Les told a delightful story of the local Chief who was so taken with the donated organ he stayed up until 3 am playing it on the first night. Eight days later, Votlo had a Category 5 cyclone proof, solar panelled school building with a freezer and a grid panel to charge cell phones. From this they could charge other villages to charge their phones and produce an income.The villagers were genuinely grateful for this building that was beyond anything they could imagine. In a recent hurricane this proved the lifesaver as the entire village sheltered there for safety. Unfortunately once again the village was flattened including the kindergarten next to the school. The current objective is a campaign to raise $90,000 find some suitable volunteers to rebuild the much needed Kindergarten and check on the health of the locals. The building will have a concrete floor,a steel frame, corrugated iron roof and walls, plywood inside, 4 windows with shutters and 2 doors. This will be utilised by neighbouring villages and as a place for the local women to sew and on sell the goods made providing another area of income and opportunity for the coming generations. Three composting toilets will also be built. With $40,000 already raised, a foreman to be provided and a clear plan in place, an application for a Rotary International Grant will be actioned and hopefully looked on favourably with Vanuatu Rotary to endorse the project. There is no financial support provided by an Education board or Government funding, however 3 certified teachers must be affiliated to the School for the project to go ahead, something Votlo already has in place. Les is asking for what we as a Club or ourselves can do to help improve the lives of these villagers, provide a different experience for the local children. 

Derek thanked Les for his time noting the hard graft that had been put in over the last few years that was now making a difference in the lives of those affected and those that volunteered. This was a great project for Rotary Clubs to be involved in, Vanuatu being a place our Club was already invested in with the donation of books 2 years ago. All the very best Les for the upcoming project and Grant application.