St. Andrew's Church Wimbledon, Herbert Road, London SW19 3SH

St. Andrew's Church

Herbert Road

Off Graham Road


This page is dedicated to the charitable support we are giving to Tanbok, Pentecost, Vanuatu, South Pacific.

Objectives and Project Philosophy

Tanbok and Life in Central Pentecost

Tanbok lies on the eastern side of Pentecost’s hilly interior. It is accessible by the single road that unites the north with the south. The altitude is significant enough to reduce the area’s average temperatures by several degrees, relative to areas of lower ground elsewhere on the island. Being the second wettest island in Vanuatu, Pentecost bears the brunt of weather systems coming in from the open ocean on the east, which is of course most extreme in the eastern hills. This results in commonplace fog and very penetrating damp – when walking to school in the early hours of the morning, the children even end up with dew drops in their hair. This enhances the cool, making the climate relatively temperate and noticeably cool during the ‘winter’.

Supplies come in via ship at Bwatnapne (see map) on the west, or via plane into the island’s airports in the north (Sara) and south (Lonorore) which must then be brought to the village by an expensive truck journey. The eastern coast is a steep and treacherous hour’s walk away, where rough seas bring in copious seafoods, but are unfortunately too rough for service by ship.

The people came to Tanbok as a compromise in location between the fruitful Eastern side of the island and the amenities (road, regular service by ship, schools, dispensaries, better communication and so forth) of the west. Many pride themselves on their eastern roots, belonging to a place which even on the island has about it something of an enigma. Yet the area remains an untouched retreat, attracting few visitors, and managing to bypass the attention of the handful of agencies working in the area. The only connection with the world is through the Anglican Church, which as this project attempts to convey is failing the community.

Yet the people are bright and thoughtful with a happy disposition. They are experts of the region, extending right the way to the east, and exhibit great wisdom as seen through communal decision-making. For example, 2009 saw the arrival of Digicel Mobile network in Vanuatu and on Pentecost. A signal tower was contrasted in the central region, very close to a village. On my visit, the chiefs of the area came together and voiced their concerns for the people as they had gotten wind of stories of the dangers of radiation. They realised they were not best placed to make the decision, so with my help, the situation was looked in to, in order to gauge the safety of the local people. They were always absolute when putting the wellbeing of people above business and money. The tower was left to stand for now, but they would pull it down in an instant if any apparent risk was perceived.

The tropical existence is fruitful, and the people of Tanbok maintain links with the more lush east in order to keep up a supply of fish, but when in Tanbok live a mostly humble lifestyle dependent on natural crops, cooked in local ways in ‘bush kitchens’ on open fires and hot stones, and living in locally constructed dwellings that do nothing to keep the weather out. Daily existence is free, so everything is shared – food, labour, land (although this has perceived unspoken divisions between families).

Tanbok’s main limitation to development is its lack of access to funds. Its people are willing and unusually bright, yet cannot afford decent education. The people can build, but buildings do not last due to the weather, and there are not the funds to construct and sustain more adequate structures. Given a boost in the right direction, I believe there is great potential in this place for the people to contribute something special and important to the island and indeed the country.

Vanuatu: Country and Culture

Vanuatu is perhaps most famous for four things: its happy people – ranked top of the world in a 2006 survey, and always welcoming, smiling and ready to help; the Land-diving, known as ‘Naghol’ in local language – a ritual performed in south Pentecost, the inspiration behind bungee jumping, where local men dive from specially constructed towers with nothing but vines tied from the tower to their feet; the volcanoes, of which the volcanic archipelago hosts many – including Mt. Yasur on the island of Tanna which is the world’s most accessible active volcano; and expensive South Pacific Cruises.

There is of course a lot more to Vanuatu. The country is a poor one, with the economy based entirely on copra and cava exports, and tourism. Most people have little or no money to speak of, with value exchanged in material forms other than cash – through livestock, land, kastom (custom) red mats (a special kind of carefully weaved mat that has a standardised ceremonial value) and in some places even pigs’ tusks.

Money is not for the most part needed, except in the paying of school fees, transport costs and any materials not locally produced. It is up to individual families and communities to meet these costs, and payment of school fees proves to be a near universal and great hardship for Vanuatu citizens, meaning that many bright kids miss the opportunity to progress on from free (and basic) primary education.

The majority of people life quiet, happy, subsistence lives out on the islands, with about 20,000 of the 200,000 population residing in Port Vila, the cosmopolitan capital, in search of a more modern (and unfortunately therefore monetary) lifestyle. Island life at its most basic is devoid of all western commodities – with some communities still using local grasses for clothing. This means buildings are crude, electricity rare and expensive and transport limited.

Kastom (custom) traditions are strong, and in some places beliefs remain firmly intact, but these are being slowly discouraged by the increasing influence of the church. Most communities attend church regularly, and the national church, The Church of Melanesia (Anglican) is by no means the main body. Small denominations flourish, yet most people recognise few significant differences between them. Christianity is practiced by the majority of people with whole-heartedness, enthusiasm and energy, and principles such as generosity and lovingness are strongly evident in the nature of the people. In the singing of hymns, communities join together and truly embody the music, singing with a passion not common in churches elsewhere.

Education is of a low standard on the whole, but with increased aid efforts from countries like Australia and America, is slowly improving. But the culture is a sleepy one, with people firmly attached to nature and all that is natural, meaning they have a strange resilience to change. City schools in Vila and Leuganville (the next largest town and capital of the island Espiritu Santo) employ a number of international teachers and tend to be much stronger, but now increasing importance is being seen in steering the country away from dependence on international input and training up local teachers properly. In the past few years, the standard of teacher training has increased, which has consequently highlighted the limitations to any learning institution of inadequate buildings and material supply – the basic schools of Vanuatu are notorious in this respect, so it is now deemed necessary to par the development of the schools with the advancement of teacher training. Potential is being wasted as many well-trained teachers find themselves in remote schools without even the core teaching books. While the situation is steadily improving, the geographic nature of the country means that isolated regions will continue in deprivation a while yet.

Pentecost Island

Pentecost is a long, narrow rugged island in the middle of the country. It is about 70km in length and up to 20km in width. It houses 6 different regions, each with their own language, meaning even within the same island, there is much cultural diversity. The terrain is mountainous, sloping down to every kind of beach at the coastline: white sand, black sand, pumice (debris from nearby volcanic Ambrym, seen from Pentecost glowing red at night), coral, pebble and jagged treacherous-looking rockfaces. Pentecost is the second wettest island in Vanuatu, and here, lush rainforest is boss, draped endearingly across the whole island, seemingly impenetrable in places, yet always known intimately by the local island people.

The south is famous for its land-diving and beautiful waterfalls, meaning tourism plays a major part in providing income. It is a picturesque and lush part of the island, with great dramatic mountains and valleys. Within these still exist many kastom villages, where the people maintain their traditional lifestyles

The north is famous for being home to the first national prime minister of Vanuatu, Father Walter Lini, and since him, the area has produced a number of influential politicians, meaning the area is a relatively educated and wealthy one.

The central, middle section of the island on the other hand lays claim to none of these things. With less to-ing and fro-ing by virtue of its placement away from the island’s two airports in the north and the south, life is quieter and more traditional, and less influenced by the rest of the world. In general, people are poorer – as means of income pursued elsewhere on the island by virtue of the lush, wet environment of the south or the dynamic lifestyle of the north simply don’t apply here. Cava grows well however, and so wealth and livelihood come to depend on the export rates for Cava.

Hardships in Tanbok

Vanuatu’s remote villages suffer from similar trials: schools tend to be undersupplied to varying degrees – due to financial restraints of the government; medical care is either basic or non-existent for the same reason, meaning locals sometimes have great distances to travel for medicine or medical attention, transport is difficult and always very expensive (due to high prices and taxes on fuel), communication is unreliable, and such villages therefore are at risk or escaping the attention of aid agencies and government groups at work in surrounding regions.


Tanbok is typical of this scenario, but with the two added problems of the damp climate and residual hurricane damage from a hurricane in 2004.

- The damp penetrates buildings and machinery (such as trucks and computers - though the village has none of the latter) and causes them to degrade quickly. Paper is nearly impossible to store – books, exercise books, documents, school displays all become stained and degraded within weeks. This is an immense obstruction to the success of schools, and resulted in the Anglican church blocking supplies to the school due to “inadequate storage facilities” for the maintenance and realisation full benefits of resources like books.

- The hurricane caused much damage in the region when it hit Pentecost, which resulted in a number of aid agencies, including the EU, moving in and rebuilding certain key buildings like schools, dispensaries and churches in many surrounding villages. But Tanbok received no such help, and the community has so far been unable to meet the costs of restoring all key structures, as demonstrated by the now decrepit church – its lack of walls making it more reminiscent of a shelter than a building. An attempt was made to rebuild the school, but on my visit at which point it would have been little more than a year old, it was evident the simple corrugated iron walls and roofing was unfit for purpose in this particular climate. The material traps the suffocating heat in the unrelenting 'summer', and quickly radiates the precious heat in the cooler 'winter' months. Furthermore, uncompromising metal walls make a seamless trap for rapidly accumulating condensation.

In short, I learnt that in this pocket of Pentecost Island, the sources of income that are pursued elsewhere do not apply – for climate and geographical reasons. Most of the families had no actual money, so school fees were paid with alternative valuable items such as a particular kind of ceremonial mat, or livestock. These items fail to translate into hardy building materials, so despite the best efforts and intentions of the community, harsh limitations curb their efforts, and the remoteness of the area put them at the bottom of the list of recipients of aid.

Unlike many of Vanuatu’s other remote regions, Tanbok boasts a deprivation that is not the fault of Vanuatu’s economy. The church is not the responsibility of the government but of the wider international Anglican community. Smaller denominations that fail to gain much popularity elsewhere have made Vanuatu their playground, because they come in with the materials and support to create attractive churches when the world’s mainstream denominations neglect their remote peoples. It seems to me to be a neglect of responsibility of the Anglican Church, so I hope that this project might highlight the situation to members of our own Anglican community, that we can share some of our wealth and luxuries with those who are unfairly without.

The Importance of the Project

The School

The school is half government-funded and half Anglican. The government cannot afford to support all of its schools, which is why the church stepped in to erect and assist this school in Tanbok. As with the church, the school is just as neglected, receiving help from neither body, impairing the standard of education available through the community’s bright and willing teachers as follows.

The school suffers from feeling cool and damp inside in the ‘winter’ (the time I made my visit) and apparently scoldingly hot in the ‘summer’. Displays of children’s work put up on the walls fall within a fortnight, the paper already browned and damp and losing shape, and colours blurring. Important school documents like registers and accounts and indeed books that are stored in a cupboard become similarly misshaped quickly and the ink tends to seep through the pages. This was what lead to the church blocking supplies of books to the school, something which needs to be addressed.

Airtight, concrete buildings with some insulation are needed, and within them the capacity for proper storage of materials. Furniture can be recycled and made locally, but the finances to create a suitable hub for it all cannot be hoped for without intervention.

Encouraging dreams…
Ensuring the education of young people in today’s times is (of course) absolutely integral in granting each the opportunity to reach their full potential in life and follow their dreams. Not only this, but in countries such as Vanuatu that depend so heavily on international support, proper education is instrumental in giving citizens the chance to take the leadership reigns and take control of how to shape their country.

The Church

Christianity is at the heart of the lives of the ni-Vanuatu and it is important not to ruin their experience or discourage that by letting it seem that the Church neglect its members. Furthermore, the Anglican Church has responsibility to ensure members are not compelled to convert to other denominations simply because other churches provide their members with decent roofs and walls.

More than a building…
In Vanuatu, church is also at the centre of the community. Sense of community is strong, and church services and prayer are incorporated into nearly all aspects of community life. The ‘church house’ at it is called makes the distinction between the building itself and the Church as a body. The building, traditionally a ‘temple for worship’ has come to serve as the community centre, which is perhaps particularly fitting, exemplifying the incorporation of religion into all daily activities. At its most basic, the Church building is also a town hall – used for all kinds of communal events. Providing a community with such a building promotes both Christianity itself and community spirit. It enables communities to properly organise themselves, and realise events such as fundraisers that translate directly into improvement of daily life. The people of Tanbok use their decrepit church as though it were fine, but replacing it with a new and special building will bring comfort and cheer and inspiration to its users.

Messages from the People of Tanbok

From Jelina Mabon, 23, Tanbok:
"Thank yu tumas rachel from hard work blo yu and blo luk save need blo ol man tanbok bae mi talem lo olgeta bae oli glad tumas blo harem se yu makem wanem we oli wantem."
--Thank you very much, Rachel, for all your hard work, and because you understood the needs of our people. When I tell everyone (the latest update), they will be so glad to hear that you are working towards making possible that which they've always wanted.

How to Support

coming soon...

Future

Possible extensions of project

Food for thought…
Scope for expansion is limitless. There is so much that can be done in the region – so many other communities that are in need. This would of course require a great deal more work and research, but the project is technically limitless, defined only by what is put in.

The first extension, and something to think about, is that so many children do not attend school because:
- they can’t afford the fees’
- the standard is perceived as being so low that it is not worth it; or,
- the importance of attending is not perceived.

Were all these students able to attend school, a number of new schools would be required. It is estimated that Tanbok experiences approximately 50% school attendance, i.e. a whole new school would be required in order to provide the facilities if all children were to attend….

The next extension would be to expand to other regions, and perform similar work there…

Fundraising Profile
St Andrew's Church, Wimbledon are heading the fundraising effort. The first major fundraising effort is a sponsored cycle from Landsend to John O'Groats, which will be attempted by two lone cyclists in September 2011. For more info on how they are getting on, see their blog (click here).

We are looking for support, in any way, great or small. If you can contribute, through funds or expertise or publicity or have any ideas to offer, please get in contact with us at
tanbokproject@gmail.com

Rachel Brooks

Link to Rachel's Tanbok Blog page

Back to St. Andrew's home page

St. Andrew's Church South Wimbledon, Herbert Road, London SW19 3SH