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“You will learn more from them than they will ever learn from you.”


Pacific Project 2018, an international trip run by UN Youth New Zealand, took seven high school students, myself included, to Pango Village, Vanuatu. This trip was special to us in the way that we didn’t tread lightly on the surface and see Vanuatu as tourists; instead, we delved deeper, forming friendships with the local people and their culture, speaking with their people of power and visiting the NGO’s. Ideas were challenged, opinions were altered, and we began to look at life from an entirely different vantage point.

Among the places we went and the people we met were the New Zealand High Commission in Vanuatu where we first saw a glimpse of the struggle to balance western ideologies with a rich culture; these included Ralph Regenvanu, MP of Foreign Affairs, who has been a force of nature advocating for the ni-Van people to the point of arrest; CARE International, a humanitarian organization which is focusing on empowering women; Mamma’s Laef, a group of ni Vanuatu women who create and provide reusable sanitary pads and sex education to children in surrounding schools; and Pango Pieces, a group of ni Vanuatu women who design and create jewellery from rubbish washed up on beaches.

Throughout the trip, as delegates we got to wake up and live amongst the beautiful Vanuatu landscapes and people. We learned how to open a coconut, make jewellery out of flax, hammer a hole into a shell to turn it into a necklace, whistle a crab out of its shell, sandroe (sand drawings) and numerous other things the locals have a knack for. After the hectic two weeks and having exhausted our brain juices, the finale of the trip was a well-deserved cruise. This conclusion also opened the doors to the universal recognition among the delegation that Vanuatu wins “the best people in the world award.” All the delegates agreed that the Ni-Vans are “clever, ambitious and welcoming people who are a part of a different, vibrant and fascinating culture.” Adding that they are “resourceful and seriously have a lot to offer,” members of our group reported learning a lot just from experiencing their day-to-day lives and witnessing their knowledge, tried and true, passed down from generations before them.

“I am obliged to admit, it is nice to come home to hot showers and it is nice not to have to do a mixture of acrobatics, karate and gymnastics every morning and night to get on and off that bunk bed. It perhaps is nice to have wi-fi again. However, I would go back to Vanuatu in a heartbeat to see these wonderful people. I will always remember the days they took us to the beach and spent time with us. I will always remember the nights we spent with them and everyone walking each other home.”

“After leaving you guys, I had a few hours to myself and it was really nice but now it’s too quiet. There is noise in my house but it’s not the right kind of noise – there’s small talk where there should be a meaningful discussion, and cars driving past outside instead of kids playing.” – Grace Stephens, Director of Pacific Project 2018

It’s clear, Pacific Project 2018 was a whirlwind of an adventure and added a different element to every individual’s identity. Our worldviews have forever been turned upside down and we can now better capture and reflect voices more than just our own.

Katrina Chan