Cyclone Pam: New life emerges from the chaos

Marishan and Biki Magelan with baby Angelina [not her real name], who was born during Cyclone Pam in Imaiyo village, Tanna island, Vanuatu

Two months ago, in the remote village of Imaiyo, in the far east of Vanuatu’s Tanna island, I met Marishan Magelan and her days-old baby, Angelina [not her real name].

Like many across the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu at the time, Marishan was still in shock. Cyclone Pam, the worst natural disaster to have hit the South Pacific in recorded memory, had just passed. In Marishan’s case, however, she was in shock both from the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, but also from having lived through this terrifying disaster at the same as being in labour with Angelina, her first child.

Marishan’s story was an extraordinary story of resilience, as was that of the members of the community who had stood outside Marishan’s hut, amidst the howling wind and rain, chaos and destruction, to hold together the small hut she was in as she gave birth to baby Angelina.

It’s easy to see the powerful symbolism of the remarkable birth of Angelina amidst the destruction and trauma of an event like Cyclone Pam.

Debris from damaged houses after the cyclone

Destruction in the wake of Cyclone Pam

Two months on, it’s a huge relief to report that Marishan and baby Angelina are now recovering well. With the support of her family and community, Marishan has had rest, and the chance to gain desperately-needed strength to nurse baby Angelina to better health.

When the CARE team recently returned to remote Imaiyo village, Marishan and her husband Biki were starting to rebuild their home and their lives with newborn baby Angelina. They’ve been provided with relief supplies from CARE, including tarpaulins and basic healthcare support – soap, a bucket and water purification kits, which Marishan says were vital in preventing an already-weak baby Angelina from falling into sickness in her fragile first few weeks.

Marishan’s focus is now on recovery and rebuilding – as it is for the rest of the Imaiyo community, for the island of Tanna, and for much of Vanuatu.

CARE staff talking to a medical colleague in Vanuatu

CARE staff speak to a medical colleague at Enimah village, Tanna island

With strong support from across the world, CARE has now reached more than 13,000 people across Vanuatu’s hardest-hit islands of Tanna, Erromango, Aniwa and Futuna with food, clean water and shelter materials to help communities rebuild their homes and their lives. Working with the government of Vanuatu’s Tafea Province, CARE is providing communities with building materials and training to ensure families are able to rebuild their houses to be safer than before – so that should an event of the magnitude of Cyclone Pam ever hit Vanuatu again, their homes will be more resilient.

Adam Poulter, who is overseeing CARE’s work on Tanna, says there are still many who are homeless and relying on the support of family and friends for a roof over their heads, but life on the islands of Vanuatu is slowly beginning to return to normal.

“Much of the island was stripped [by the cyclone]. What was once a bright green island [Tanna] was turned to brown.

“Yet now, there’s just so much regrowth. Most trees were cut off at the waist, but they’re now sprouting leaves and small branches. And we’re seeing vegetables – cabbage, tomatoes – starting to emerge from the ground.

They are small but important signs; life really is returning to this wonderful place.

By Tom Perry, CARE Australia

CARE is committed to being a child safe organisation. Names of children have been changed.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.