Maewo Island, Vanuatu [Image: Peace Corps]

US Peace Corps Teams Up with California College Students in Vanuatu

Asia The Pacific

As part of an ongoing effort to help the affected Hanso Hanso (Hango Hango) community, formerly living on West Ambae, Peace Corps volunteers and California State University students worked together to create 12 backyard gardening installments to address food scarcity. While Pacific Island countries are normally considered ‘food abundant’, due to the rich volcanic soil and wide variety of resources, natural disasters can quickly change that. This is especially relevant for displaced or low-income communities. The goal of these installments then is to help ensure food security and sustainability, as well as provide assurance of resources in the event of another disaster. Beyond that, the CSUN students also took this opportunity to map out where evacuees were situated using geographic information systems (GIS) technology. This will further bolster relief efforts by pinpointing affected communities which need additional support. The locations of the built gardens are outlined on a presentation made by the CSUN students about their project.

Ambae Island in Vanuatu has been volatile since 2017. Mt. Manaro (Manaro Voui), near the center of the island, is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a geologic region known for extremely active volcanos. Manaro Voui is no exception, with eruptions in recent years responsible for thousands of displacements. The current period of eruptive activity began in July of 2018, with the entire island evacuated and relocated to its neighbors.

On the other side of the community effort are the Peace Corps volunteers. Since 1966, almost 14,000 volunteers have served in the Pacific Islands through the Peace Corps, with over 800 in Vanuatu alone since 1990. Peace Corps volunteers tend to focus on education and health in Vanuatu, but depending on the country, they can cover all manner of situations from the environment to economic development. Other projects currently in operation include a literary advancement program and a plan to improve the overall health of the Vanuatuan community between 2016 and 2030.

Where the Hanso Hanso community gets further assistance in regaining self-sufficiency, the volunteers from abroad gain a chance to and make a difference while gaining valuable professional skills.

Madeline Wiltse is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a first-year graduate student studying American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University, and has a Bachelor's in International Studies with a region focus on Japan from the University of Washington.