Despite having spent consecutive 12-hour days repairing generators from all over the Maskelynes, American sailor Brian Basura and his wife Claudia Richardson from SY “Skylight” did not hesitate when the Butterfly Trust approached them out of the blue with a request to run a course on generators and solar power.
On 26 and 27 July 2011, up to 15 men (and the occasional woman) from all over the Maskelynes showed up at the Uliveo Workshop in Peskarus village to attend an intensive workshop on the theory and practical skills involved in maintaining diesel generators and solar power equipment.
Brian deftly and succinctly explained the rudimentaries via blackboard diagrams as the men listened attentively and took notes. According to Brian, he was combining concepts usually taught at primary, secondary and tertiary level physics and engineering at various points during the course. “The men did very well and asked pertinent questions, which demonstrated a basic level of understanding.”
The Uliveo Workshop was a flurry of chatter and activity as tools and engine parts were scrutinised and passed round. There were field trips to diagnose the state of solar panels and batteries at the community hall at Lutes village.
Attendee Tom Nombong said at the conclusion of the workshop that he hoped there would be more courses such as this in the future, and added “..but they must be longer.”
We were very pleased to learn that in the weeks immediately following this workshop, a number of the men were busy fixing generators in the villages including one belonging to the Sangalai School.
The Butterfly Trust is very grateful to both Brian and Claudia for coming on board at such short notice.
Avock is one of the 3 main islands making up the Maskelynes group, home to approximately 200 people. The majority of children from this island attend Namaru Primary School until Year 6. Although the school is attached to Avock, it can be reached by foot only at low tide. To get to school, children traverse coral and mudflats, cleaning up before attending class. At high tide, local transport involves paddling the ‘kanu’, local dugout canoes. The journey can be difficult during the rainy season or when the seas are rough.
Despite limited funds, the school committee is dedicated to improving facilities one at a time. It has organised repairs to a number of leaky classrooms out of the annual school budget. After a 5-year wait, the school finally received a water tank. Next on the list was lighting for 4 of the 6 classrooms and the administrative office. This has now been provided by the Butterfly Trust. With the solar power supplemented occasionally by a generator, a photocopier and printer are also in use. This has markedly improved the ability of the school to function effectively and improve the education of its pupils.
Click to view a video clip of the children from Namaru School.
The Butterfly Trust has decided to go ahead with facilitating the establishment of a new library in the Maskelynes. The main impetus for this project is to help improve the literacy standards of the community. Poor literacy standards are clearly a concern across all age groups. Mr Benson Tangou, the head teacher of Sangalai Centre School cited an urgent need for more literacy training for his teaching staff as well as an improved library with a trained librarian where students can have access to a quiet reading space and to carry out research activities. He stressed the need for reading programmes as a way of teaching students the value of reading for pleasure.
In Vanuatu, standardised tests of achievement in literacy and numeracy are carried out nationally every 2 years at the end of Years 4 and 6. Figures from the 2010 Annual Development Report indicate that only 17% of Year 4 (9 year old) boys and 33% of girls could read and write satisfactorily. The figures for Year 6 girls was 46% and 29% in English and French schools respectively.
Although the planned site of the new library building will be on school land, the school committee board, paramount Chief Kalmet Dick and the Butterfly Trust have jointly agreed that the proposed new library will also function as a resource centre for the entire Maskelynes community.
Apart from having to find a source of funding, the proposed project will require careful consideration of the different aspects of human resources skills necessary to ensure the facility, once built, will serve its desired purpose in the long term. This entailed visits to school libraries in urban Port Vila and the Vanuatu Institute of Teacher Education for guidance from ni-Vanuatu staff.
The estimated total cost of this project is approximately VT1.7 million (NZ$24,500). The Butterfly Trust has submitted an application to New Zealand Aid for the bulk of this funding with some labour and materials to be donated by the Maskelynes community as their ‘in-kind’ contribution. Construction will be carried out by a team of experienced builders from the Maskelynes and overseen by William Ennis, a tutor at the Uliveo Rural Training Centre.
Also required are the services of an experienced librarian both for the initial set up and also to provide training to a designated library administrator. Butterfly Trust will also facilitate any follow-up support as required from time to time.
The Vanuatu Ministry of Education has also joined our MOU with the Ministry of Health.
In Port Vila, we spoke to Roy Obed, Director of Education Services from the Ministry of Education (“MOE”). Mr Obed highlighted the need for further training in the areas of English literacy, science, mathematics, librarianship and school management. He cited that a lack of adequately trained teachers continues to be a major problem with schools in the outer islands worst affected. The lack of sufficiently trained teaching staff extends down to pre-school level, a concern shared by Benson Tangou, Head Teacher at Sangalai School in the Maskelynes.
Increasingly, teachers are encountering poor literacy and numeracy skills in children attending their first year of primary school. This then impacts negatively on achievement standards in the ensuing years of school and either leads to high repetition rates or students dropping out of the formal education system altogether. This problem coupled with the cost of fees means that a substantial proportion of children in the Maskelynes and other outlying areas have a disjointed education. Responding positively to the poor survival rate of students at primary level and beyond, this year Mr Tangou established a Year 1 Nursery class to assist young children meet the minimum standards set by the national curriculum board before entering Year 1 primary.
For a number of years, a major focus of Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education has centred on achieving universal ‘fee free’ primary education and improving literacy rates. In 2010, with the help of Vanuatu’s development partners, compulsory parental school fee contributions were phased out in a direct response to declining primary school enrolment rates. Parents no longer pay the annual VT6 800 (approximately NZ$100) per child contribution towards fees for Years 1-6. Second only to the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring every child receives free primary education remains a key Millenium Development Goal for the Vanuatu government. By 2015, it is hoped that boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary education.
It was as a result of these discussions with Roy Obed and other education officials that the MOE also decided to become a party to our MOU with the Ministry of Health.
Last year, the Butterfly Trust began its association with the Maskelynes Sangalai Centre School, a school serving approximately 250 students from Years 1-6 and the first 2 years of junior secondary school, Years 7 and 8. Currently the cost of fees for attending Years 7 and 8 are VT6 800 (NZ$100) per child and there are, as yet, no plans in place by the government to offer financial assistance to students wishing to receive further secondary schooling on mainland Malekula (Years 9-12). Last year, the cost of a year’s secondary schooling at one of the 3 main schools on the mainland was approximately NZ$600 per child. Costs have since risen to NZ$1 000 per child. With fluctuating copra prices, the harvesting of which is still a major source of income in rural Vanuatu, funding children’s school fees looks to remain a huge challenge for families every year.
With the guidance and oversight from representatives of both the MOE and MOH, the Butterfly Trust plans to maintain its financial assistance to Year 8 Sangalai School students in a bid to increase, gradually, the numbers of students attending and remaining at secondary school. We also hope to provide assistance with sourcing and facilitating teacher and literacy training workshops in the Maskelynes, building on existing programmes and improving access of teachers to such programmes on the mainland where these are available.
The overarching objective is quite simply to enable every boy and girl to receive an education. Secondly, to assist with improving the standards and quality of existing courses and programmes taught in line with the national curriculum.
The Butterfly Trust arrived at Port Vila Harbour in the early hours of 19 June 2011. Shortly after we met up with Viran Tovu, the Acting Senior Health Planner from Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health (“MOH”) to discuss proposed medical assistance to the Maskelynes. The Maskelynes are a group of islands lying off the southeast corner of Malekula, one of the larger islands in the Vanuatu group.
On the Maskelynes, individuals requiring basic medical attention visit the Reverend Fred Paton Centenary Clinic (also known as the Sangalai Clinic) on the main island of Uliveo. This clinic has been managed solely by Charlie Siniu (Registered Nurse) for the past 7 years. There are also aid posts on nearby Avock Island and Akam village. Both aid posts are staffed by individuals who have completed a 6-month certified Nurse Aid course at Norsup Hospital in Northern Malekula.
The MOH acknowledges that Vanuatu suffers from an acute shortage of trained medical personnel across all levels of health facilities throughout this country of 83 islands. Combined with an ageing workforce and poor access to services in remote areas, the provision of primary healthcare is still a paramount priority for the MOH. Mr Tovu advised that Vanuatu is currently short of 400 nurses. For those living in the Maskelynes, the journey to the closest provincial hospital in Lamap involves a 45-55 minute ride on an open motor boat dodging coral reefs and ocean swells to a landing point on a beach. This is followed by a ride on the back of a pickup truck.
As a result of our discussions with Viran Tovu, on 7 July, the Butterfly Trust signed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the MOH to facilitate the provision of medical services to health facilities in the Maskelynes beginning in 2012. The Butterfly Trust will assist by providing suitably qualified medical personnel (doctors, dentists, nurses) as well as any necessary medical and dental equipment and medicines. To encourage the sharing of resources and ideas and to foster overall independence from external assistance long term, key emphasis will be placed on training new staff and upskilling existing ni-Vanuatu health workers. Ideally, health and hygiene education programmes and talks will be a regular occurrence at the local primary schools, kindergartens, community centres and brand new Women’s Resource Centre. The initial term of the MOU is for 5 years with a clause allowing for an expansion of similar activities to other areas of Vanuatu should resources and expenses allow.
The Butterfly Trust recognises that this work may overlap with a number of longstanding medical projects and volunteers working in these and other outer islands. We believe in a coordinated approach to maximise available resources and to achieve the best possible outreach. We would like to hear from any group or individual currently working in or around the Maskelynes or who is interested in becoming involved.