Through the maze of grass as high as people our bus navigates the bumpy dirt road in between the squatter communities of Black Sands, Vanuatu. We pass a local pick-up soccer match on a makeshift field which has two enormous trees in the middle providing unique hazards. There are a few little stands selling fish or whatever else could be made or caught that day. These are glimpses of life in Black Sands.
This area is an impoverished collection of different ethnicities that have settled in Vanuatu but who have never been able to make enough money to improve their situation. They establish smaller communities within the area, usually composed of a specific culture or people group.
Our bus pulls up to one of these communities, Black Sands Paama, named for the island from which its inhabitants come. In between the shacks, made with whatever material is available, we are swarmed by a mob of children who are anxious to see their familiar friends from the YWAM Love Vanuatu center. The kids yell out the names of Jimmy, Jackson and Kal – one staff and two students from the YWAM center. These three have been coming here for a while now and are immediately given rock-star status.
Once out of the vehicle, we are grabbed by children and included into their activities. They take us to the river, where they are fishing and swimming. Marbles are collected from the bamboo wall of the local church and a game is formed. They pose for pictures and rush to see their digital image, laughing at each other’s pose or expression.
It is in this time of playing that the health problems we were told about start to become reality before our eyes. The bulging bellies on the kids’ skinny frames, the runny noses and sores. One boy can’t stop itching his scaly scalp, which is a constant home for flies and other insects.
Unfortunately, this is a story that has been told before in settings all over the world.
There are great needs in this area. Speaking with Geoff Oglivie, one of the leaders of the Love Vanuatu center, it is easy to tell that the needs are overwhelming. “It is hard to know what to do,” Geoff tells me. This is an understatement. This particular community is without electricity, without basic medical care, and without a realistic way of being educated. With the passing of time and distance from their native land, the people are also losing their culture. It is almost a place without hope.
But Love Vanuatu is doing something to help meet these basic needs and inspire hope. They have been bringing teams into the community to serve the people for about a year. They are hoping to bring in medical teams to help alleviate some of the health problems, as well as to prevent some of those problems through basic health education. YWAMers are also helping to fix and construct water tanks, which will improve health by providing clean water for the community.
Love Vanuatu is also in the middle of a program they have dubbed “Thongs,” another name for flip-flops and an acronym for “To Help Our Neighbors Grow Strong.” After noticing tell-tale signs of intestinal worms in many of the children in this area, they learned that these problems could be avoided with a simple pair of flip-flops, or thongs, and some affordable medicine.
In the next few weeks, they will have received a pallet of nearly 3,000 flip-flops which God provided through a businessman in Australia. The team from YWAM Love Vanuatu will then distribute them to the children with the much needed medicine. During this distribution, they will inform and educate the community about why they are needed and the benefits they bring.
Many times we stop with, “It’s hard to know what to do,” and we never go any farther than the sentiment. Love Vanuatu is not settling for mere feelings, but are doing what their name implies. They are loving their neighbors, helping them grow strong and helping them restore their hope, found in the love of Jesus Christ.