Reflections of a volunteer sailor
Reflections of a volunteer sailor – MSM 2013 Vanuatu Mission 1 by Ramon Rees
Sunday 28 July 2013
When one reflects back on the range of experiences of an MSM Vanuatu mission, it is difficult to identify individual highlights, or for that matter, lowlights. My first thought is that the time went much quicker than I expected it to. Although I was glad to be heading home after four weeks, I struggled to identify where the time went.
For anyone who has not experienced the islands of Vanuatu it is very difficult to picture the village life under which the Ni-Vans live. When you leave the environs of Port Vila, towns as we know them in the western world simply cease to exist. There are just small villages, often with less than one hundred people in them. Although there are usually a few buildings made with modern building materials, the bulk of the village buildings still exist the way they have for hundreds of years. There is usually little or no power, water or sewage yet the people do not see themselves as poor or underprivileged. They are subsistence villagers and this is simply the way they live.
The Ni-Vans, almost without exception in our experience, are friendly, welcoming and happy. They were grateful for the services we provided and were unfailingly generous in their thanks in terms of providing meals and local produce to help sustain us during our stay. If one only visited one or two islands as part of a tour group, it would be easy to think this behavior was a façade developed for financial reasons. When one visits many different islands that are not part of the usual tourist route it is obvious that their overt friendliness is a part of their national identity. It was rare to walk down an island track without the residents; men, women and children alike, all smiling and greeting us as we passed.
Our mission was not designed to try and change the way they live. It was simply to provide them with a little dental and medical care that they otherwise may not get and to help them out in any other way that we could in the brief time we were with them. I found it refreshing to be part of a team to do exactly that.
To know that we made a difference to a simple subsistence spear fisherman whose mask was old and ragged and whose fins were simply old rubber thongs, was quite satisfying. We were surprised to see this handsome young man calling out from the water with a big grin on his face after that he had swum hundreds of metres out to our boat. He was searching for his spear gun that he had lost some hours previously but he was also offering to catch us fish and sell them at below market prices. To see his face light up as he gratefully accepted a brand new set of fins, mask and snorkel to allow him greater opportunity to make his living, was quite touching.
It was satisfying to be part of a team that really had to work effectively together to accomplish the mission. Each member came with individual skills and experience to complement other team members and after the normal challenges of getting a team to pull together, its effectiveness continued to increase. As members of the sailing team, we often joked that we were simply the life support system for Fang, as we had labeled the dentist with us, as he traipsed from island to island building up his collection of teeth. That really is understating the scope of work he and the other members of the medical and dental team completed. They were often on the go from dawn to dusk in the conduct of their work, with little opportunity for sightseeing or relaxation.
Noting the range of backgrounds and ages amongst the team members, and bearing in mind the close confines of a vessel like Chimere, it was gratifying to see how people adapted to the environment without overt signs of friction or discontent.
There were numerous other occurrences, most of them too insignificant to note individually, that combined to make my experience of the July 2013 MSM Vanuatu mission something that I will hold dearly for many years to come. I am grateful for the opportunity to have participated.