Vanuatu Reflections – Nina Barnett

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Vanuatu is one special place in the world – one that I never quite expected I would go. But there I found myself, balancing on a fallen coconut tree in the river, tentatively avoiding the nasty spiky snails while my limbs were enthusiastically scrubbed and soaped by the little ‘pikininis’ (meaning children in Bislama) who we joined hands with on our journey down from Mango Station. They have hair that is so fantastically frizzy that it’s pretty well waterproof, small, explorative and fidgety brown hands, and dark, wide and determined eyes with a joyous glint in them that makes you wonder about the world. These are the children of Santo Island, where we stayed in the South just outside of Luganville.

As we filed off the plane we were greeted with one of the greatest grins that anyone might witness in their lifetime. There was Jeffrey, accompanied by several family recruits, waiting eagerly adjacent to the two trusty utes that would take us on the wildest four-wheel driving adventures through Vanuatu’s thick jungle greenery during our stay. That evening we were escorted to Jeffrey’s home where we met his family. They adorned us with brightly coloured leis and fed us up generously with a smorgasbord of food inside a small hut with a low ceiling and a roof of palm leaves. By the end of the night we were all bleary eyed and ready to drop off into dreamland, but our expectations were again trumped when we arrived at our base camp in Mango. There we found a hut for sleeping, toilet, and kitchen area built by the hands of these beaming people over the past several weeks in anticipation of our stay. They built us a house. Get that? They built us a house.

Over the course of the next ten days our group of thirteen spent time in and with some of the most spectacular places, experiences and people – some so remote from anywhere or anything I had imagined, including my mind’s preconceptions of such places. These frequently elicited feelings that shifted from bamboozlement to surprise and intrigue, confusion to an assurance of right and wrong, sadness to joy, hopelessness to hopefulness, loss of heart to determinedness and motivation. These feelings came from my inner core and as the days went by, I felt my heart being transformed by these people and this land. As I flick through the snapshots in my mind of their faces and interactions, my heart wells up with love for them until it is totally full and overflowing. I think it’s because as you come to know people more intimately, to know their hopes and to understand why they have them, your hopes for them align with theirs, and you are filled with a yearning to see them realised.

I don’t think you can really understand what it means to be generous, what it means to have faith and hope, or what it means to have joy (not happiness, I mean real joy) until you know suffering. Jeffrey and his family have so little, and yet they gave so much. Not only that, but they did so with a spirit of joy and love that was so intense it was overwhelming – frugal attitudes and bitterness don’t exist here. The people of Vanuatu know what suffering is, they know what it is to have nothing, to go hungry, to give up an education for the sake of their family. In spite of it all and what you might expect to see in someone who has endured these things, the people we met were some of the most generous, joyful and hopeful people I’ve ever known. They have overcome suffering through what they attribute to their faith in Jesus Christ, because they rely on him, trust in him and put their hope in him – a God that loves and cares for them, and gives them hope in eternity.

The spirit in that community of Mango is inspiring. It stirs you up inside and makes you feel restless because you feel like you ought to do something about the fact that they have so little. As the trip went on, however, I realised that yes, they are poor in a material sense, but they are so rich in many ways that we are not. They are rich in life and love, expressed through their seemingly endless spirit of generosity, community and joy. I was humbled by these people, and I am so, so thankful.

Title: Vanuatu Reflections
Author: Nina Barnett
Format: Reflection
Publisher: National Student Leadership Forum, Sydney
Access: Online Library of the National Student Leadership Forum

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