The Maskelynes

Avock village


There are four villages that make up the community of the Maskelyne Islands – Peskarus, Pellongk, Lutes and Avock. This is the community the Butterfly Trust first worked alongside in Vanuatu, starting in 2010. 


Ten years ago, government school fee grants extended only to the end of primary school. Beyond that, parents, the vast majority of whom eke out a subsistence living from copra, kava, fishing and market gardening, would somehow pay NZ$1000 – NZ$1500 annually per child so their sons and daughters could attend secondary school. Unsurprisingly, many families struggled to pay for the last four  years of schooling and a large number of students dropped out. 

Against this background, in 2012, the Butterfly Trust set up a school fees subsidy and scholarship fund to help pupils from the Maskelyne Islands complete their secondary education. Due to financial restraints, the funding of tertiary students was not included in the scheme, but the Trust also managed to fund, alone or jointly, some one-off vocational courses in electrical and solar power skills, generator and outboard engine maintenance, and construction. The Trust also made some contributions to the tuition fees of nursing students and some school infrastructure projects. In addition, it has funded and organised training courses for kindergarten and primary school teachers.


Now, things are changing. The Maskelyne Islands community is taking over full responsibility for the extra-governmental support of education. (This is being helped by the fact that the Vanuatu government has announced that it will soon begin subsidising school fees for Years 13 and 14.)

At the beginning of 2019, the Maskelyne Islands’ Butterfly Trust Committee, with the full support of the Trust, decided to freeze scholarship applications in 2020 while an alternative, wholly community-driven strategy, could be formulated. 

In November 2019, the Paramount Chief, village chiefs, church elders and women’s representatives from the four villages drew up a series of survey questions with the help of the Trust. The aim of the survey was to find out if, and how, the community wants to manage its own education trust, how it will be funded, what its educational goals and priorities will be, and how they wish to define education in the broader cultural context.

The group of community leaders from each of the four villages in the Maskelynes

In late January 2020, the door-to-door survey was conducted and in September 2020 the Trust and the Trust’s Committee met on the Maskelynes to discuss the findings of the survey. The Trust formally thanked the members of the Committee for their work and handed over administration of the scheme to the villagers. 

If requested by the community, the Trust will continue supporting this programme as it moves into its next phase. In the immediate future, this may entail administrative support, project development advice, and mentoring. The Trust will also probably continue to make financial contributions to the community education fund, most likely on a “one for one basis”. (The community is reasonably confident of being able to raise meaningful sums to contribute to the fund.) 

Extra-governmental educational support on the islands is now completely in the hands of the community ie. the community will raise funds, administer the education trust, and decide how to allocate its funds. 

Obed Kamsel

Obed Kamsel, chairman of the Maskelyne Islands Butterfly Trust Committee, wrote at the beginning of the transition….

We want to thank BT long (for) the great opportunity to begin to change the islanders’ mentality to start to put education as a priority. Thank you NZ (and other) donors and fundraisers to support our children, blo givim sapot (for supporting) our children from this small island. In one way or another, without your help we cannot be serious in education and upgrade education in our province. We hope more of our children will work in government departments, maybe some will take on high leadership positions in the future in our countrySipa hambat (thank you very much)”

To read Obed’s full report click on the link. (He writes mostly in English with the occasional Bislama phrase thrown in – it is a good opportunity to practise your Bislama!) – Summary from Obed Kamsel 2019.


The Trust continues its long association with the Maskelynes Dispensary, four villages and  schools, to improve access to basic health services and health education for adults and children. This includes dental screenings and treatment, eye checks, ENT screenings and public health awareness on a variety of topics such as infectious disease prevention, nutrition, NCD (non-communicable diseases) screenings and awareness, hygiene and sanitation. These activities are carried out in partnership with national and provincial health teams as well as visiting volunteers from overseas, in particular dental practitioners. 

Over recent years, these outreaches have become more integrated and holistic, with growing input from local health workers and education officers. This is in line with the Trust’s long term goal to strengthen local capacity. The intended outcome is for rural and remote island outreaches to be organised locally through the provincial base of the Ministry of Health, while visiting health practitioners and the Trust provide technical support as required.

In 2019, Maskelynes’ nurse, Minah David, and nurse aid, Angela Kali, helped to coordinate patient visits to Lamap Health Centre during the annual South Malekula outreach. Patients requiring dental treatment, and eye and ENT checks, were screened, treated or referred on as necessary. Through a coordinated system linking the hierarchy of health facilities from aid posts and dispensaries to provincial and main hospitals, it is hoped that these outreaches will continue to provide improved health access to rural communities.

In 2019, Angela Kali also joined the outreach team to neighbouring communities in South Malekula, assisting in the Dental and Oral Health Education component. This was designed to coincide with a refresher training opportunity in Oral Health Promotion, delivered by Port Vila based Dental Hygienist, Lillyrose Dan. Following practice runs at Aulua Central School, Kamai Primary and Sanesup Primary, Angela brought her new knowledge back to the Maskelynes and  went solo to Namaru Primary School on Avock to reinforce toothbrushing and oral hygiene skills. 

Angela Kali at Namaru Primary School

In 2020, Trust health outreaches were unfortunately prevented by Cyclone Harold and Covid-19.

We also want to congratulate former Maskelynes’ nurse, Bambie Stephens, on her recent graduation from midwifery training in Port Vila. Bambie is currently completing her placement at Vila Central Hospital, following which she will be based at Lamap Health Centre. 

Ikkana, our newest local partner

In early January 2019, Max Albert, from Northwest Malekula, the founder of Ikkana Cancer Foundation, spent four days in the Maskelynes talking to women and girls about the risks and prevention of cervical cancer. He held workshops in each village.  (Max is also carrying out this work in collaboration with the Trust in other areas of Malekula.) Max returned in mid-2020 to screen and present the results of cervical cancer testing his team had carried out in the Maskelynes. He also carried out more awareness.

Max Albert

(If you want to read more about the historical work of the Trust in the Maskelyne Islands, click on the link to our archive of newsletters.)