Vanuatu: "If people overseas can help us, we really need it"

Tom Perry
Boy stands in wreckage of school destroyed by the cyclone, Tanna island

After a bumpy four-hour journey across the mountainous island of Tanna, our truck pulls in to a small clinic, deep in the bush under the shadow of the rumbling Mount Yasur volcano, which supports the 10,000 or so people living in this part of southern Vanuatu.

I'm greeted with a firm handshake by a solidly-built man whose son is tucked tightly around his right leg.

"Tom," I introduce myself.

"Tom," he replies.

There's a moment of confusion between us, before we realise we share the same first name, and we share a brief half smile.

"Nice for meetim iu, Tom," Tom says to me in Bislama, the local lingua-franca.

We pause, and Tom's smile quickly disappears. He returns to resting on a bench outside the clinic, which is without power or running water. He puts his arm back across his son's shoulders, and pulls him in tight. His son looks exhausted, as does Tom.

CARE team preparing distributions for Tanna Island, Vanuatu

CARE team preparing distributions for Tanna Island

While the rest of our group – community representatives, aid workers from CARE and a group of French doctors who've just arrived from neighbouring New Caledonia – are quickly occupied by maps and frenetic conversation, I join Tom and sit on the bench.

I ask him about the topic everyone is focused on; the impact and aftermath of Category Five Cyclone Pam on this island of 50,000 people.

"We've got three days' food left," Tom tells me firmly. "After that, we've got nothing. The water from the pipe smells, and some of the children have got bad diarrhoea. They're now getting sick. We need clean water.

We've beaten the cyclone, but now we're sick because of the contaminated water and lack of food. It's a big problem for us.

Tom tells me he's a father of six – his oldest is 25, his youngest age nine.

"The pikinini (children) only have food that's been spoilt; cabbage and spoilt bananas. We need food that has vitamin C – juice, fruit, anything that will help. As a parent, you must find a way, a way to protect and save your children. You must find them food, you must find them water."

Tom tells me that beyond the sickness and hunger, Pam has also brought him the sadness of losing all his hard-earned possessions.

"Our mattresses, our pots, pans and plates – they're all gone or damaged. It's going to take two, three, maybe four years to earn enough to replace those things."

I tell Tom that the world has seen how devastating Cyclone Pam is, and help is coming.

If people overseas can help us, we really need it.

CARE's response

CARE is delivering food, hygiene and shelter support to communities across Vanuatu's southern islands, including on Tanna.

Tom Perry's picture

Tom Perry is Senior Media Advisor for CARE Australia