Baha’is of Vanuatu Begin to Rebuild After Devastating Cyclone

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.

The razed village of Nakayelo on Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

The razed village of Nakayelo on Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

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.

Drying Ruhi and other salvaged Baha'i books in the sun.

Drying Ruhi and other salvaged Baha’i books in the sun.

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.

Tanna Island Baha'isOne 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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe 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.

 

 

About the Author

Preethi

In her professional life, Preethi has dabbled in various combinations of education, community development and law. At heart, though, she's an overgrown child who thinks the world is one giant playground. She's currently on a quest to make learning come alive for young people and to bring the world's stories and cultures to them, with educational resources from One Story Classroom.

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Discussion 17 Comments

  1. May I have the name, address, email address of the Vanuatu National Spiritual Assembly so that I might send a contribution, or do they prefer for me to make it to the U.S. NSA and earmark it? Love and Prayers, Leonard Sooman, 450 NW 68th. Ave., Plantation, Fl., 33317-7501; [email protected]; (954) 773 7113

  2. I was so touched by this story of the human spirit when faced with dire calamity. I cried tears reading about that youth whose tin box held his treasure and of that young mother whose son thirsted for the spiritual words of the Writings which has inspired her to return to her village to rebuild her home and start up children classes. Crisis and Victory!!! God bless them and prayers for these wonderful souls!

  3. Extremely sad to hear of the situation the friends going through. Will beseech the Blessed Beauty for the assistance and strength.

  4. Dear friends, Our thoughts and prayers are with you as you rebuild out of the devastation. From this test will surely come victories. Keep up the strength of all around you through those devotionals and find happiness through service to others. Loving greetings, your friends in Wandsworth, UK.

  5. I was so touched and words cannot express this feeling of deep love for the friends there in Vanuatu.. I heard numerous, and high achievements there in your blessed land. We all continue to pray for your safety and May the Guardian take care of all of you with the lovely kids..xoxo

  6. I was moved by reading the stories, and couldn’t keep from looking at all those radiant faces….. Radiant, in spite of the devastation…. I feel admiration for each, young and old, and hope their lives will soon return to normal…. <3

  7. The Hawaii Baha’is are with you in spirit, praying for your quick recovery. We are all amazed and inspired by your spirit, happiness, and joy in the face of such overwhelming disaster.
    Thank God for you, the Baha’is of Vanuatu!
    Lots and Lots of Love and hugs,
    Randy Focht from Hawaii.

  8. Despite the tremendous suffering they still have a smile on their faces. These precious souls possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart that reflects their trust in and love of Baha’u’llah despite the hardships

  9. Dear Preethi, Baha’i Blog, and Baha’s in Vanuatu,
    Yes, but sadly, the situation in Vanuatu may get worse before it gets better. The region, including Vanuatu, is experiencing severe drought conditions due to an El Nino event, and its impact is predicted to be the worst in decades. Estimates indicate that millions of people will be affected across the region. There have already been deaths that have been attributed to this El Nino event.

    The impacts of this drought will be varied but they include water shortages, crop failures, food shortages, and an increase in the occurrence of disease.

    I am launching a project that will hopefully find a sustainable solution to water shortages, the solar distillation of seawater to drinking water.

    I want to let you know of this project and I hope you, and those on your network, will support it.

    I feel a strong desire/need to return to Vanuatu and lead a solar distillation of seawater project as I believe the distillation of seawater to drinking water is a sustainable solution to access to drinking water issues in coastal communities in the Pacific. I feel that this is particularly relevant on account of the severe drought caused by an El Nino event and other climate induced phenomena.

    As I have had limited success in finding a donor to fund this initiative, I am planning to start a fundraising campaign on the Indiegogo platform. I plan to launch it later this month. Attached is the text of my Indiegogo campaign as it exists today (I’m editing it.)

    I hope I can count on your financial contribution to this campaign when it goes live. Besides your financial contribution, I hope you will share this campaign with everyone in your network.

    Best,
    David Stein

    PS I can’t actually attach anything in this format but if you’ll send me an email address that I can attach things to I will send the current rendition of my Indiegogo campaign.

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