SolarSPELL Team site visit to Lelepa Island, Vanuatu

On Saturday, May 13, the ASU SolarSPELL team was thrilled at having the opportunity to join Peace Corps volunteers Katie and Jack as they traveled back to their “home” island of Lelepa. There was a crowd of children at the pier, all of whom were elated to see Katie, whom they knew as their teacher.

We also met a number of the village residents as we trekked through the main street.

All of them were elated to see Katie and Jack returned to Lelepa.

There were beautiful vistas around every corner.

We were glad we hadn’t needed to travel in one of the local canoes, pictured above, but it was neat to see quite a few of them, nonetheless.

There were beautiful seascapes at every turn, as we made our way to an amazing cave.

One of the locals, Krystal, gave us a tour of the spectacular cave that just defied description, so I will leave it to the pictures. We also learned quite a bit about the legend of Chief Roi Mata, whose remains were found on the hat shaped island pictured below. (It’s called Hat Island.)

There were some ancient cave drawings from the 1800s depicting local topics of importance in that time (which were very difficult to capture on camera). Can you see the silhouette of a wild pig in the photo below?

Afterwards, we walked back out to where the boat was moored and to our surprise on this off-grid, unconnected island, there was a teenage girl, sitting on the beach with her tablet, watching music videos!

Our next stop was at Katie and Jack’s home, adjacent to the school where Katie teaches. We trained them on how to use the SolarSPELL library, giving them the lightning-speed overview of the device and pointing out some highlights of the content.

Lelepa island seems to be an ideal place for the SolarSPELL as Katie estimated that over half of the island’s residents own tablets, not even to mention how many smartphones would be found there as well, so finding devices in Lelepa would not present the same challenge as in Epau. The team was surprised at the difference in access to technology that a small difference in local income levels makes. We inquired about this and were told that since Lelepa has no water source of its own, (subsistence) farming is not an option, so people commute to Port Vila and work for wages. Clearly, they were earning more than the subsistence farmers. How interesting that geographic limitations could lead to higher incomes.

Katie and Jack were tremendously excited at the new possibilities that using the SolarSPELL presented for the school. Katie already shared numerous ideas she was having, not only for using the SolarSPELL in her classes, but for holding a workshop to introduce it more widely, to teachers and parents as well.

Finally, the team got back in the boat and headed around to the far side of the island for some absolutely amazing snorkeling.

And a great fish dinner afterward.