Vanuatu has a society that stuns the senses of the Western world. The first time traveler here, walking in with eyes wide open, will find a society that is the anti-thesis of everything that we know as modern, as only the tropical islands can be.
The rhythm of the beat of South Pacific island life greets you on arrival. At the airport, during the day or on the midnight flight, a string band bursts into life. Warm welcoming smiles and brightly colored shirts greet young and old. As the cruise ships dock the throngs of locals playing their unique music and plying their wares, adds vibrance to the tropical air.
Ni-Vanuatu are special people, quietly spoken and friendly. The custom official appears to whisper to you. The taxi drivers, after greater contact with Westerners, are a little more gregarious. The streets are a-buzz with warm greetings, smiles and handshakes, but few loud voices are heard.
Yet the 21st century encroaches as the young teenagers are beginning to dance to a different tune, thanks to the world of TV and DVDs. Newly acquired, special introductory priced, cell phones, are seen eagerly clutched by the teenagers
Most of the village Ni-Vanuatu people go everywhere by foot. Bare feet take these people deep on the forest footpaths, across the coral beaches and along the paved roadways. These are silent feet. Every day for generations their feet have propelled these people over long distances.
Travel is mostly undertaken by foot. Far from the villages, deep in the rural areas, family groups walk each day to source their food supply at the remote hilltop gardens. Weekend visits to family and church involve treks over long distances.
Sound of “psst" breaks the quiet as someone's attention is attracted across a considerable distance. The male youth, gathered under the banyan tree, burst into a raucous laughter, sharing news and discussing music. A giggle can be heard from behind the hands of the young girls standing over the cooking pots or nurturing the young, like girls all over the world. Quiet and peace returns to village life.
The Ni-Vanuatu communities, family and relationships are more important than possessions. The extended family brings up the children and cares for the elderly. The village chief is paramount.
The paramount chief will settle family disputes, take care of misdemeanors and adjudicate the serious crimes outside the criminal system. However, time is turning like the tide in these areas, as more and more teenagers try to imitate the ways of the West.
Whether continuing to live on their isolated island homes, or having moved to the capital, Port Vila, the sense of community lives on for the young.
Identification of island cultural heritage can be seen as men proudly tell visitors that they are “Man Tanna" or “Man Ambryn". Respect for elders is critical. Island communities gather in distinct parts of town and are very supportive of their own people. The community takes care of the youth that drift to town for education or employment.
Ni-Vanuatu community responds to their home islanders needs after natural hazard wrecks havoc. They provide assistance of food and basic necessities.
Custom ways and economy of generations past are being increasingly threatened by western approaches to law and order, business and civil society as Vanuatu moves into the 21st century and toward its 8th election since independence in 1980.
This Lesser Developed Country has acknowledged that progress to the next generation means education. Mothers, like mothers all over the world, are particularly aware of the desperate need to educate the next generation. They want to see their children's dreams, of being a doctor, nurse, teacher, fulfilled.
Vanuatu government admitted in 2007 that it was unable to adequately resource education. No education in Vanuatu is free. The islanders living in a ‘no-cash economy’ are unable to pay the school fees.
The dire consequences of this are:
YouMe Support Foundation, a Child Trust Fund, is dedicated to giving these children a high school education - helping to bridge the gap between custom ways and economic, western developments.
If isolated communities are to come to terms with the 21st Century, educating the next generation must be given urgent priority. You can assist these children to gain an education. You can be part of the helping these children take part of modern living, while retaining their beautiful ancient culture.
Dr Wendy Stenberg-Tendys and her husband are CEOs of YouMe Support Foundation(http://youmesupport.org ), providing high school education grants for children who will never have the opportunity to have an education without outside assistance.
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