A day in the life of four children on Pentecost Island
In Vanuatu, UNICEF continues to reach children in some of the remotest communities with access to water, sanitation and hygiene supplies
Tucked into the belly of southwest Pentecost, an island in Vanuatu, by the Lonorore airport are a series of villages that line the coast.
While the smoke rises hesitantly from the huts dotting the coastline, four children are gently roused from sleep by their mothers. Some days are a lot harder for this group of children to leave their warm beds, especially when it’s raining.
A rainy day would mean holding a bush umbrella fashioned from the taut leaf of the giant ground taro, locally called the Navia taro, to keep dry. In case of a downpour, the first river they must cross becomes swollen and impassable. This means that one or several days of school are missed.
But today, they can rest easy as there is little chance of rain.
11-year-old Fleurly Tawan and Mary Sarne, are in classes 5 and 6. They are the oldest of the four children who make the almost 10km walk every morning from Lonorore Village to Ranmawot Primary School. The two younger children, 10-year-old Claudia Satne and the only boy in the group, 9-year-old Paul Tamse are in classes 5 and 3.
“My mother wakes me up before the rooster starts crowing," says Mary, the more confident of the children, who seems to be the default spokesperson. Fleurly on the other hand appears happy to just hang back a little.
“Mine wakes me up at four o'clock,” adds Paul.
For the four children, waking up and getting dressed so early is just part of their daily routines. Breakfast includes taro with island cabbage (island spinach), rice and egg, or crackers, and sometimes a tea made from lemon leaves or lemongrass.
At 6 am with the sun gently warming their skin, they set off for school with an assortment of dyed woven pandanus baskets slung across a shoulder that already has a backpack on. In their baskets, the children carry a snack for their morning tea break and lunch neatly wrapped and tied securely in laplap leaves that come from the thicker family of the banana plant.
As they walk towards the first river crossing, the children chat quietly amongst each other. Claudia is carrying a colourful bouquet she made that morning for her teacher. Paul points out the water reeds at the edge of the river where he found a naura, a freshwater prawn, and a namarae, an eel, last week. Mary urges him on with a promise of looking for prawns after school.
“I like playing with my friends in the river,” said Mary. “We catch naura, namarae, and sometimes little fishes”.
A voice pipes up.
“Come on Paul, we’re going to be late,” said Fleurly. “We can go for a swim after school, and I’ll help you gut the namarae if you like”.
Paul reluctantly moves off across the river at the girls’ urging. They cross over together pointing out familiar landmarks and how the river had changed course in the last couple of months.
The children ran up the hill and get to the school as the 7.30 am school bell rings. It’s time to clean up the school compound. Dropping their bags and baskets in their classes, they join their friends to pick up rubbish. Another bell rings and they run down to line up by their classrooms at handwashing stations to wash their hands.
“I wash my hands with soap and water to kill the germs,” said Fleurly. “This keeps me from getting sick”.
Hands dry from being shaken, the children congregate for the whole school assembly with their school principal and teachers. The Vanuatu flag is raised to the children’s voices singing the national anthem.
The children then file to their classrooms for their morning’s lessons. It is a relief when the breaktime bell goes and the children can line up, wash their hands, and finally sit in groups with their friends to open their parcels of food. Hungry children who have woken up early and walked some distance to school sit down to eat their morning tea.
“We have to wash our hands before we eat our food,” Claudia said.
Mary indicates her leaf, suddenly remembering that this was meant to be two meals.
Carefully re-wrapping and tying the leaves, the children have a brief time to play before their afternoon lessons. There is a sense of heightened energy as the children race from lessons to change out of their uniforms into play clothes for the school sports day.
Fleurly and Mary join the older girls to play a game of volleyball. Claudia runs off with some friends to play tag. Paul is not interested in joining the older boys to kick some football. He joins the big group of children in a raucous game of tug-of-war. It’s no wonder his team wins the tug-of-war, having the advantage of being downhill.
Whoops of joy could be heard across the school grounds.
Then just as it starts, the noise dissipates. A sudden quiet settle across the school grounds as the children wait for the flag to be taken down, folded, and stowed away neatly.
Mary grabs her bags. With Fleurly in tow, they round up the other two children, Claudia, and Paul, and they start their 10km walk home. Trudging down the hill, they agree that it’s been a long day. Their plan to catch namarae today might have to wait for another day.