On 13 March 2015, Cyclone Pam hit the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, killing 16 people and destroying thousands of homes. Tanna, an island in the south of Vanuatu and with a population of approximately 32,000, was one of the worst affected areas. Tanna island is also one of five locations where – as the Universal House of Justice announced in its 2012 Ridvan Message – a new local Baha’i House of Worship will be built.
Payman and Sima Rowhani, two Baha’is from Vanuatu, have shared the following wonderful account of their visit to the Baha’i friends in Nakayelo Village on Tanna Island, which we are reproducing on Baha’i Blog, with their permission.
While it is clear from their account that the people of Vanuatu are going through a difficult time, it also demonstrates the incredible courage and resilience of the people there.
On the 25th of March, less than two weeks after Vanuatu was hit by a category five storm, we arrived at Nakayelo Village on Tanna Island, where the regional Baha’i Training Centre is located. As we walked towards the village from the main road, we missed the turn to the Training Centre as everything in the area was so unrecognisable.
As we finally approached the Training Centre, we saw Mama Sapai, an elderly Baha’i and one of the Training Centre’s caretakers. When she saw us from a distance, she dropped everything she was carrying and ran towards us. She embraced all of us with tears of joy and happiness in her eyes. She asked how we were, more concerned about us than herself.
She led us to the village and we saw that all the houses in the entire village had been razed to the ground. There was nobody to be seen in the village – there were no children playing; the mothers were not chatting, or cooking and weaving their mats as they usually do. Everyone was in a nearby village, where they had taken refuge.There was similar devastation along the road to the Training Centre, which was blocked by trees that had fallen. The Baha’i Centre, in which so many functions had been held over the years – the dormitories, the kitchen, the caretakers’ homes – had been razed to the ground entirely, with nothing spared. Using what was remaining on the solar energy system, Mama Sapai was able to find some of her things – a bucket, a few plates and a tent.
We returned to the village and pitched a tent to sleep in for the night. We all consoled each other telling one another not to be sad, but privately, we cried.
In the morning, we saw a Baha’i youth approaching the village. He went to where his home once stood and started looking for something amidst the rubble. He seemed to be looking for something of great importance to him. We watched from a distance as he picked up a metal box, which seemed to be what he had been looking for. We watched on, wondering what could be in the box.
He opened the box, and very carefully, removed a book from it that had been soaked in water. It was one of the Ruhi books. He opened the book and looked at it for a period of time, as though he were thinking back on the time he had studied the book. He then carefully laid the book out in the sun to dry.
He took another Ruhi book out of the box and laid it out under the sun, and then another. He proceeded to do the same with the Youth Conference booklet which had also been in the box, looking very happy and relieved to find that some of the Junior Youth program materials under the box had not been completely drenched. Finally, he took out his prayer book and, opening it carefully to where the picture of Abdu’l-Baha was, laid it out under the sun with the utmost care and respect.
We then went to another village where the people of Nakayelo had taken refuge during the cyclone. They had been there for over a week.
One of the mothers by the name of Serah told us that her four year old son, Ramu, had approached her a few days before, asking her to help him memorise the quote from the Writings that begins with “Let your heart burn with loving-kindness”. After she had taught him another part of the quotation, he left to play for awhile, before returning to ask his mother to teach him some more of the quotation. Serah told us how her son’s thirst for spiritual education had been an awakening for her, and of her decision to return to her village immediately, so that she could build her house and form a children’s class again.
We were also informed that soon after the cyclone, the Baha’is had organised a devotional meeting for all those who had taken refuge in the village. The devotional meeting proved to be a soothing experience for all, bringing peace to an area that had been struck by tragedy.
Thank you to Payman and Sima for sharing this beautiful and inspiring account. We will be keeping the people of Vanuatu in our prayers.