Kiwanians in Vanuatu raise funds and organize volunteers to support a school and a life-saving blood center.
Story and photos by Kasey Jackson
It’s lunchtime, and the energy at Pikinini Playtime is palpable. Children dart to their classroom doorways to try and catch a glimpse of the visitors who have come to their school. Some offer a shy hello and a giggle.
Pikinini Playtime Early Childhood Care and Education Centre is located in Vanuatu on the island of Efate, situated in the Pacific Ocean. On this day, visitors from the Kiwanis Club of Port Vila (the capital city of Vanuatu) have come to say hello. Several kindergarten students are thrilled to share their news: They’ll be going on a field trip to Shark Bay in a couple of days.
Kiwanians in Port Vila have been helping at the school for a few years now, offering pieces for the school’s playground and sponsoring students by paying their tuition costs. Pikinini Playtime Principal Carol Batten says every bit helps, especially because the school has changed a lot since its earliest days.
“Originally we started with just childcare, and we had six children,” she says. “And we’ve grown from there since 2012. We’ve added a class every year. So some of the children who were with us on day one are still with us, and two teachers who were with us on day one are still with us. We’ve grown together.”
There are now 150 students on each of the two campuses.
Anna Willie (left) is one of the students sponsored by the Port Vila Kiwanians. She sits in her wheelchair and watches as her friends bounce past her, on their way to the playground after finishing lunch. She’s all smiles as she poses for photos with her Kiwanis friends. There are about 35 children with disabilities at Pikinini Playtime, Batten says.
“Anna was burned as a child,” Batten explains. “She was in a blanket and laid too close to the family’s fire. She was burnt from the waist down. She has the shape of her feet and the shape of her legs, but it’s stunted because her lower limbs are stuck at the level they were when she was burned, around 2 years old.
“For the first year and a half Anna was with us, she didn’t move. She didn’t smile. She sat in the corner and didn’t do anything. Since then, she’s really come alive. She now smiles. She talks now. You can’t get her to stop! She’s had a lot of trauma. She didn’t have a lot of interaction after her accident. So part of coming to school when she was little was really a shock. It was such a big thing. She’d never seen this many kids. It was a white lady’s place. All of those things contributed to her trauma. Thankfully, the teachers have loved her through it. She has come such a long way.”
Kiwanis members often stop by to see the children and to note the progress, but also to discuss the needs of the school.
“In Vanuatu, you have to pay school fees,” Batten says. “It costs AU$1,200 to sponsor a child for a year. Kiwanis pays for Anna (and another student). Kiwanis also helped build the playground. They paid for some of the timber. We’ve tried to make it so the children with disabilities can actually play. With the double see-saws, we can have a caregiver behind a disabled child. We have a little house, and there’s a sandpit. So there are elements of the playground that are suitable for disabled children.”
Mark Stafford is from Melbourne, Australia. He now lives in Vanuatu and has held numerous positions in the Port Vila Kiwanis club, including several years as president. He’s on his way to a school near Mele Bay, where he plans to meet some women to talk about their sewing project. While maneuvering his truck along a bumpy road toward the bay, he shares a little more about what Kiwanis has done over the years for people in this tropical locale. One Kiwanis project directly related to the sewing project is quite hands-on and requires some heavy lifting. He explains that Kiwanis members and other volunteers empty large shipping containers that arrive from New Zealand filled with an assortment of materials — everything from desks and school supplies to the sewing machines needed for this particular project. (Read “Threads Across the Pacific”at kiwanis.org/2017vanuatu.)
“We do all of the clearance of the containers when they arrive through customs,” Stafford says. “Then we unpack the container and sort the items. We identify where we can distribute things. We make the contact with the community leaders. We’ve had lots of help and a whole bunch of people who are so appreciative and helpful. It’s a community-based effort.”
The club is also known for many other projects and fundraisers, such as the annual Charity Horse Race, a ladies luncheon, roofing schools in rural areas, sanitation facilities at schools and distribution of sports equipment to youth and community groups.
THE FRIENDLY ISLE
Stafford has plans for our visit to the Vila Central Hospital Laboratory Blood Bank. We’ve come here to see firsthand the blood machines that the Kiwanis club donated to the hospital. But Stafford is prepared to donate blood. Ezra Talo, medical technologist in charge at the blood bank, explains how the process works.
“Before the donation, the donor is interviewed,” Talo (at right in lab coat) explains. “We make sure everything is entered correctly and privately. After interviewing here, we collect a blood sample. It’s then screened and processed and if everything is OK, we collect the blood.”
The Kiwanis Club of Port Vila donated two of the T-RAC (Terumo Recording & Automatic Blood Collector) machines to the blood bank. The club has donated several items to the blood bank, including a refrigerator, thermometers, table and chairs and cabinets.
“We are so grateful for the donations that they help us with and for their help with sponsoring (hospital volunteers),” Talo says. “But the biggest thing we need help with is to keep the blood bank filled at all times. Sometimes the Kiwanis members come here to physically donate blood, which is good.”
But the T-RAC machine is the star right now. Talo explains the importance of having the machines in the blood bank.
“The purpose of the T-RAC is to weigh the blood, mix the blood and record the input,” he says. “The machine tells us if the blood is flowing slowly or if the blood is flowing quickly, and we can make adjustments if needed. It’s helpful because it gives us the right amount of blood. But it’s great for the donor because it automatically shuts off. Even if the technician is not here, it will stop on its own. It weighs now, when finished, 450 ml. And it’s significant to have this amount because if it’s anything other than 450 ml, then the fluid inside can have too much or too few of the anticoagulants. If you have too many anticoagulants in the final product, the patient receiving the blood can become hypoglycemic.”
Talo notes that Stafford “will build up the blood he has given over the next few hours.” With the tour of the blood bank over, it’s time to call it a day.
Back in the truck, Stafford says the Port Vila Kiwanis club raises more than AU$40,000 to support its projects. He says the volunteer community is active in Vanuatu, and it’s refreshing to see how many people want to help in any way possible, and how friendly everyone is on the islands.
“I joined Kiwanis because I like to give back to the community I live in,” he says. “Vanuatu is a happy place. It’s one big community. People walk down the street, stop to shake hands, wave and smile. I like to walk in the mornings when I travel, and I’ve noticed that most of the time, you get no eye contact. In Vanuatu, you get nothing but eye contact and smiles. The people here trust you. They want to be friendly. I reckon it’s a good place to live.”
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of Kiwanis magazine.