We'd particularly like to introduce you to a pretty extraordinary Swedish family whom we first met in an anchorage in Spain back in 2012.
|Photo from Salsa's blog|
Staffan and Ellinor, with their two children Erika and Andreas had set off in their 45ft yacht 'Salsa' earlier that summer and we got to know them pretty well as we crossed the Atlantic at the same time and even shared locks in the Panama Canal. Actually the first meeting in Spain wasn't great - Staffan shouted at us that he thought we were anchored too close to him, but we've forgiven him since!
This (southern hemisphere) summer, they bucked the trend and, instead of sailing south to NZ to avoid the cyclone season, they stayed in Fiji. The country was spared any cyclones this year, unlike the previous one, but of course neighbouring Vanuatu was decimated by Cyclone Pam a couple of months ago.
Their proximity to Vanuatu (about 4 days's sail from western Fiji) and their on-board skills (Ellinor was a consultant paediatrician in Sweden and Staffan was a film producer and business guru so has great project-management skills) meant that they immediately volunteered to help with the disaster recovery programme. They joined a brilliant charity called Sea Mercy (click for the link to their website) which uses sailing yachts to bring medical aid to Pacific Islands where conventional shipping just can't gain access.
They have spent an incredible month in Vanuatu, finding villages flattened by the wind and waves of the cyclone, with crops destroyed in the ground and very little in the way of food or medical aid. Ellinor and doctors from several other yachts have held clinics in the midst of this devastation, treating many hundreds of people, whilst Staffan has provided logistical and practical support whilst also not neglecting his responsibilities to home-school their two children. Erika and Andreas are amazing, accepting all of this in their stride and seeing it as 'just what you do'. Meanwhile he has posted almost daily, detailed accounts on his blog which highlight his respect for the local people who, in spite of the enormity of the disaster that has befallen their country, remain proud and independent; they accept outside help because they have to, not because they want to.
Staffan's latest update is a heart-warming view that puts paid to any Western assumptions that people in these situations just lie back and wait for the Disaster Recovery aid teams to come and rebuild their world. Here are just a few paragraphs which followed the description of a makeshift clinic set up in the damaged church to treat over 100 villagers:
"Remi the man responsible for the disaster work asked me if I wanted to see the village, and as we walked I saw things that were astonishing. You have a village that was wiped out about 5-6 weeks ago? And here they had arranged teams of workers to help the entire village. So instead of a tired crowd where everybody would have to take care of their own problem it was solved with many hands.
It was organised with men setting up and repair houses and the women assisting with plaiting of material to tie up the walls etc. Can you imagine a roof with 12 guys on top lifting sections by hand and then 5-6 guys fastening to the house? Laughter and team work at its best! I get goose bumps as I write this because the joy and the speed was immense. As if that was not enough, the chiefs house looks like garbage, so Remi told me the working orders.
The chief has ordered that widows houses are fixed first, then lonely women with children, then families etc and last, yes, the chiefs house.
If anything made this relief work a life experience it was this village, I would not have wanted to miss it for my life! This gives so much hope about humanity. I'm not naive, I'm sure they have their problems, but the way they take care of this giant mess is amazing. Remember we are talking about a place without electricity unless you run a generator, we are talking about axes and handsaws, we are talking about splitting bamboo that has to be collected up in the mountains. We are talking about getting a tree away from a house before you can start rebuilding it, and we are not talking tree, we are talking BIG TREE, 100 years old, so wide that you can stand next to it laying down and it is yet taller than a man in its width.
On top of that they also had torrential rains last week so they have mud everywhere, mud everywhere!
Remi told me they are so happy, so happy, that nobody was killed during Pam."
If you'd like to read more, the blog can be found at http://blog.mailasail.com/salsa
Salsa, we salute you!