News Story

Church Members Donate Food and Time to Rebuilding Vanuatu

Remote island community of Tanna devastated by two cyclones

As food supplies have dwindled on cyclone-torn Tanna Island, Vanuatu, local members and missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Port Vila have worked tirelessly to find a way to get sustenance to the people on the outer island.

On Tuesday, 14 March they succeeded in distributing supplies across Tanna, getting into remote villages that have been completely cut off from any aid thus far.

Back-to-back category 4 Cyclones Judy and Kevin tore through houses and trees, destroying homes, buildings and food sources on March 1-3. The torrential rains drenched crops of staples such as manioc and taro, while the catastrophic winds tore down banana and mango trees leaving behind spoiled and rotting food with no future means of sustenance available.

Amazingly, there have been no reports of lives lost on any of the islands.

Tanna Villagers work to clear the road in their area. Tanna Island, Vanuatu, 2023.2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Although Efate Island was hit harder, Tanna has been of particular concern to government, relief organizations and Church leaders as communications with the island have been completely cut off since the first cyclone. The initial contact by radio was finally made just days ago. 

The additional concern has been the agrarian nature of the island. The people there live almost entirely on what they grow in their villages as they do not have the means to purchase commercial products.

According to local mission leader for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Mark Messick, the Church’s immediate goal was to provide food that would sustain the people until relief organizations and government agencies could bring in long-term resources. 

Getting relief to Tanna to bridge that life-threatening gap required miracles along with the determined efforts of Church leaders, missionaries, members and friends to make it happen. “Somehow it just all came together,” President Messick said.

President Rex Morgan Ialulu on the ship with the container of relief supplies . Tanna, Vanuatu, 2023.2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Humanitarian aid funds from the Church were sent to local leaders to use to secure food for both Efate and Tanna Islands.

As reported by President Messick, Vanuatu stores are rationing supplies, so it was no small miracle that they found 1,300 large 18 kg sacks of rice,150 cases of tuna, noodles, bags of seeds, 150 tarps to shelter families, and 800 large garbage bags to send to the villages of Tanna. 

The subsequent hurdle was getting it there. Somehow, Marlo and Sandra Stradley, senior missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Port Vila, found a spot for a container on a small ship, The Vanuatu Islander.

“We were so lucky to get our container on it. It was quite a blessing that we found a way to get the food and supplies to Tanna,” President Messick said.

The next move was for senior missionaries and young full-time missionaries serving in Vanuatu to go to work along with 20 local Church members. They used all the mission vehicles and spent many hours getting the food picked up and loaded into the container on the ship.

It was an exhausting day, but a good one. The helpers, including the young people, knew that they had been involved in something good and they rejoiced that they had an opportunity to serve.

Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Efate join the relief effort for Tanna Island. Port Vila, Efate Island, Vanuatu, 2023.2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

The people of Tanna then had their part to perform. When the ship arrived, 60 Church members and friends were waiting on the dock to unload the food. The first thing they did was to offer a prayer of gratitude on the dock. 

The food was taken to the office of the Tanna Latter-day Saint local leader, President Rex Morgan Ialulu. He thanked the men who came to assist and another prayer of tearful gratitude was offered to God for the blessing of food and relief. In an orderly way, the food was loaded into trucks to be distributed across the island to any in need living in the remote villages.

Elder Marlo Stradley went to Tanna to help with the distribution effort. He reported the difficulty of being the first vehicles to attempt getting through on the cyclone-ravaged roads. “It was a horrendous ride. The roads were a mess and some were demolished. Sometimes we stopped to help the villagers who were working to clear the roads with their small shovels and simple tools.”

According to Elder Stradley, the village scenes were very tender. Homes were demolished and farms shredded by the cyclones.

Impressed with the villagers, he said, “These people are not waiting around for help, but are working together to repair and rebuild. They are very grateful for the rations and are so gracious. One man tried to give me the gift of a cucumber, the very last bit of his food. They are such generous and good people.”

Noting the amount of destruction, Elder Stradley said, “It is absolutely miraculous that there was no loss of life.”

Relief supplies are divided up for families in remote villages. Tanna Island, Vanuatu, 2023.2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

There is much still to do to assist the people of Vanuatu as they work to reclaim their lives. Food will continue to be a worry and water supplies are getting contaminated with debris and sewage. Villagers are having to boil their water now. Crops will need to be replanted, communication systems and roads repaired, power restored, and homes rebuilt.

And yet, there is a feeling of gratitude that some initial assistance got through to bring hope and help. The people of Tanna know that they are remembered and loved as the Church of Jesus Christ and others continue to aid them.

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