A Vanuatu village has celebrated the opening of two cyclone-proof classrooms that can double as storm shelters at a Seventh-day Adventist school as the South Pacific island prepares to mark the first anniversary of a devastating cyclone.
The chair of the school board in the village of Hebron on Tanna Island spoke with tears in his eyes at the opening of the classrooms at the school, the latest in a countrywide effort by Adventist workers and volunteers to rebuild schools and 53 churches flattened by Cyclone Pam on March 15, 2015. All reconstruction work is expected to wrap up by September.
“This is such a blessing from heaven to think that we now have cyclone-proof buildings where the village people can go during a cyclone to be safe,” said the school board chair, who known widely as only Elder Harry.
He described the entire community as having been distraught after the storm and said many had feared it would be nearly impossible to recover.
A chief from an adjoining village, whose residents helped in the building work, joined in the celebrations. Elder Harry acknowledged the chief’s support, and women poured water, one of the most precious resources in Vanuatu, over his head as a sign of gratitude.
The classrooms, as well as similar church buildings, were designed by Peter Koolik, a builder from Brisbane, Australia, and raised with the assistance of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, or ADRA.
Koolik has designed prefab iron buildings that can be constructed on site in five to seven days. The buildings are rated to withstand winds of up to 300 kilometers per hour (186 miles per hour) and, significantly, can be insured.
“These churches and schools in Vanuatu are the lifeblood of the village,” Koolik said. “It is here that students come to know Jesus, where local church members worship together almost daily, where Sabbath is celebrated in a special way each week, and where people can turn to in times of need.”
After the success of the classrooms, ADRA has ordered another four school buildings and eight buildings that will serve as centers of influence benefiting entire communities. All can be used as evacuation centers to protect people in future disasters.
Across Vanuatu, work continues to rebuild the 53 Adventist churches destroyed by the cyclone. Last year 21 prefab buildings were transported from the Watson Park Convention Center in Brisbane to Vanuatu, with a further 19 being shipped in the first quarter of this year.
A number of overseas volunteers have rolled up their sleeves and taken part in building projects, including teams from the Avondale College of Higher Education and Fox Valley churches in Australia.
Since the buildings are standard, a core team of 10 local workers, who have now erected more than 10 buildings, have an efficient method of assembly, Koolik said. The crew travels from site to site, working with local church members and living in small tents with limited water and no electricity.
In some cases, up to 40 local village men have come to help with the construction. At many sites, when the portal frames are raised, the local women stand nearby, clapping and cheering with joy.
“The resilience and faith of our church family in Vanuatu is inspiring and shows us that God can turn seemingly un-mendable disaster into great joy,” Koolik said.