The Manaro Voui volcano on the island of Ambae in Vanuatu’s north has experienced a series of eruption events, leading to the compulsory evacuation of the island in July 2018. Approximately 11,000 people have been relocated to neighbouring islands, including approximately 3,000 people who were relocated to the island of Maewo. CARE has been actively involved in responding to this emergency, including supporting host and displaced communities to prepare for the cyclone season. As part of the response, CARE is working to establish and strengthen Community Disaster and Climate Change Committees (CDCCC) with representatives from both Ambae and Maewo communities, whilst also encouraging women to be part of these committees and express their opinions.

Togetherness is all we need

Boats arriving on the shore with tired and worried displaced people, Manaro rumbling from a distance, and the clock ticking – these are not new experiences for Philip, a long time CDCCC member from Namumu community in Maewo.

“I knew just what to do. While my other colleagues were taking care of boat arrivals and recording passengers’ information, I helped secure safe houses for the most vulnerable groups – old people, the disabled, pregnant mothers and children,” said Philip.

For Esther, a woman from Naonone community in Maewo, the response was a chance for her to collaborate well with Ambae women, while helping to support the response.

“The role of women during the response was simply great! With support from Ambae women, some of us were helping men to move families to host communities while others were helping out with household chores to ensure people were fed and keeping a safe, healthy environment for everyone,” said Esther.

All of the efforts made by women and men in Maewo were no surprise. In 2011, CARE delivered workshops with some community members from Namumu, including Naonone and other neighbouring communities. Those workshops helped them to establish their CDCCC and to understand the key roles and responsibilities of disaster focal points in their respective communities.

“During the first workshop that CARE did in 2011, I learned so many skills and knowledge about disasters. I was able to fully exercise those skills during the recent response, and also learned a lot from these experiences.”

Kingston, a committee member for Rembu community

When CARE returned to Maewo in 2018, CDCCCs were leading the response. They were seen playing leadership roles in their respective communities. Building on this, CARE facilitated a refresher workshop for the existing committees to help them adjust to the continually changing context. Since the resettlement started, the population in Maewo has almost doubled, and this refresher aims to inform CDCCCs on ways to ensure displaced and host communities are included in disaster plans. The workshop supported the committees to review their membership, bringing together people from Ambae who are living in temporary shelters with members of the host communities, while continuing to encourage a gender balance on the committees. In communities where there were no existing CDCCCs, CARE has also helped to establish new ones. All CDCCCs and community members also participated in cyclone simulations to get them ready for the cyclone season.

The training was an eye opener for Wendy, a female CDCCC who relocated to Maewo from Ambae.

“When I was still in Ambae, I did not often speak up. But after attending CARE’s CDCCC workshop and CARE’s women leadership workshop, I realized the importance of breaking out of my comfort zone. Now I have the courage to speak on my community’s behalf and tell them that disaster is everybody’s business,” said Wendy.