Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ni- Vanuatu, Of- Vanuatu.

Isso Nihmei, young Pacific Leader from Vanuatu.
Though his eyes may be weary, his heart is full of power. It was such a privilege to see Isso Nihmei after Cyclone Pam. Isso is a young leader in Vanuatu and he and his team, were responsible for helping with most of the relief efforts after Cyclone Pam. 

Isso's images and videos from Vanuatu before, during and after the cyclone, were used by global media to show the world what was happening in Vila. He is an amazing young Ni- Van leader.

On March the 13th of February, Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu. It was absolutely devastating. 

During the ordeal, the team and I worked hard to help elevate the stories from our people on the ground in Vanuatu. This was the very first time, any of us had to deal and process the things we did. We were ordinary people doing extraordinary work. 

First off. I am so proud of how Aaron, Koreti and I managed to live outside our capabilities, and serve powerfully. 

We worked hard with the our amazing Vanuatu Country Coordinator, Isso, to ensure that the very first stories, images, and videos from the mayhem in Vanuatu, were all delivered to the world by a Ni- Van voice. The team and I, were merely conduits of these stories to the outside world, it was both a grounding and inspiring task.

The whole world knew of what was happening in Vanuatu because Isso's stories were not only told, but heard! 

It was a powerful moment for our movement that changed the game and redefined our presence, both on the ground and in the digital landscape. It transformed the way our audience viewed our work, and it transformed the way we told our stories. 

We managed to shape a deeply grounded, heartwarming response that uplifted voices of our local teams, and more importantly, it drew on our strengths of faith, and story-telling as a region. 

When we were faced with adversity, we relied on our authentic truths to get us through something we couldn’t make sense of, and not only did it bring us through, this ordeal allowed us to grow from strength to strength.

While we managed to share the first photos of the aftermath globally and footage and images were used by BBC, CNN, Reuters, ABC and hundreds of other outlets, and our Facebook likes increased by over 1500 in the space of 3 days. We faced a few challenges.

We knew people wanted to help, but we were well beyond our capacity and conversations about how to help were rather fragmented. 

On the one hand, we knew our team on the ground-needed money, and they needed money as soon as possible. I understood this completely, our team of volunteers need to be fed, supplies need to be bought and a few dollars would help make this happen.

But, what I was having trouble processing, was how we shaped our response during a crisis that was true to what we knew. 

This powerful young man is a leader in his own right!
We knew that throwing money at a problem, wasn’t going to help, but still people were looking to us to help shape how they could help. People were looking to us for direction. We needed to think quickly and deeply about our role in helping others find clarity during this ordeal. It was serious, and we found ourselves pondering these things;

How do we encourage people to respond sincerely without making money the currency by which we offer assistance? 

How could we shape a response to our people,  that ensured a sense of dignity for the person receiving help, as much as it did, for the person providing help?

How could we ensure that we were able to help people on the ground by shaping our response in a way that was solely based on their needs, and not what we assumed they needed?

Because our social media had gained a significant amount of followers thanks to Isso's timely and reliable updates to us, asking them to give us their money so we could use it to help those affected by Cyclone Pam, made sense, but also felt a little weird. 

It felt weird because we are not a relief agency and we wouldn't know how to maximise cash donations for the people of Vanuatu. 

To be honest that last sentence reads simply, but I struggled for many weeks to find the words to say that. Simply, we were beyond our depths, but we knew that if we weren't going to do it right, we wouldn't do it at all. 

What did feel was right though, was asking people to #PrayForThePacific first, then direct them to disaster response agencies, for cash donations. 

I am so glad we went with what felt right. We connected with them first through hope, then provided those that could donate cash, the option to do so as well. After all, prayer without action is foolish right?

Through it all, we also needed to allow space for everyone to feel like they could help and we weren't going to make money the only currency or measure of that help. 

YES we needed to fundraise that money, but, we also needed to do that in a way that made sense in our communities. We needed to fundraise that money together- in a way that allowed space for the spirit of helping and giving- together, to co-exist. 

However, since time wasn't on our side, the best thing we could do was ask people to donate money to organisations like Save the Children, UNICEF or Red Cross, as they were in a better place to support those on the ground. These relief agencies would make better use of the cash donations than we would. People would be able to access these donations faster, it offered people dignity to decide what is best for them and what is it they need to rebuild their lives, and cash donations could help purchase food, water and hygiene packs that would be useful for those at evacuation centres. Plus all the logistical costs of providing help would cost money, cash donations could help.

There were many, many things, that the experience of Cyclone Pam taught me, the main thing though, is that praying for a spirit of discernment during adversity, is a powerful ask that everyone needs to practise. When you mind is focused on your source of strength, your spirit will guide you in ways you never knew existed. Trust that!

I have newfound sense of respect for my colleagues, Isso Nihmei, Koreti Tiumalu, Aaron Packard and Thelma Young, each of them gave the Cyclone Pam relief work a chunk of their hearts and I know that our teams on the ground felt that transfer of love, respect, meaningful solidarity and hope. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of.

Most of all though, I feel like I have been turned upside down, emptied of all my fears and anxiety about the future of the Islands, turned the right way up again and filled with the truth that the people of the Pacific are resilient, prayerful, hopeful and powerful beyond measure!

This is our truth!

1 comment: