The village of Hebron on Tanna Island has celebrated the opening of two new cyclone-proof school classrooms as Vanuatu prepares to mark one year since the devastating cyclone.
Brisbane builder Peter Koolik, who designed the classrooms, is overseeing the rebuilding of schools in Vanuatu alongside the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).
“These churches and schools in Vanuatu are the lifeblood of the village,” he said. “It is here that students come to know Jesus; where local church members worship together almost daily; where Sabbath is celebrated in a special way each week; and where people can turn to in times of need.”
Chairman of the school board Elder Harry, with tears in his eyes, spoke about how distraught the entire Hebron community was after the March 15, 2015 cyclone. They feared it would be nearly impossible to recover from it. “This is such a blessing from heaven to think that we now have cyclone-proof buildings where the village people can go during a cyclone to be safe,” he said.
The classrooms under construction
The end result
A local chief from an adjoining village, whose community helped in the building work, joined in the celebrations on January 18. Elder Harry acknowledged his support, which was followed by a ceremony where ladies poured water (one of the most precious resources in Vanuatu) over the chief’s head as a sign of gratitude.
After the success of this rebuild, ADRA has ordered another four school buildings, plus eight centres of influence benefiting entire communities, which will double as evacuation centres to protect people in future disasters.
Across Vanuatu, work continues to rebuild the 53 Adventist churches flattened by the cyclone. Mr Koolik has designed prefab iron buildings that can be constructed on site within five to seven days. The buildings are rated to withstand 300km/h winds and, importantly, can be insured.
Since they are standard buildings, a core team of 10 local workers, who have now erected more than 10 buildings, have an efficient method of assembly. The crew travels by 4WD vehicles from site to site, working with local church members, living in small tents with limited water and no electricity. They are inspired by the enthusiasm, passion and support of the locals.
“The resilience and faith of our church family in Vanuatu is inspiring, and shows us that God can turn seemingly un-mendable disaster into great joy,” Mr Koolik said.
Peter Koolik (second row, third from right) with some of the volunteers who helped construct the new classrooms.
In some cases, up to 40 local village men have come to help with the construction. At many sites, when the portal frames are raised, the local ladies stand nearby, clapping and cheering with joy.
A number of overseas groups have rolled up their sleeves and taken part in building projects, including ADRA Connections volunteer teams from Avondale College and Fox Valley churches in NSW.
Last year 21 of the prefab buildings were transported from the Watson Park Convention Centre in Brisbane to Vanuatu, with a further 19 being shipped in the first quarter of this year. It is hoped that the rebuild will be completed by September.
- Peter Koolik and Jarrod Stackelroth