This September and October one of the doctoral Family Nurse Practitioner students on the SolarSPELL team spent 6-weeks in Vanuatu working intermittently with the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, local Peace Corps leaders, and Peace Corps volunteers. She had the opportunity to spend time in villages on multiple islands immersing herself in the culture of the wonderful people of Vanuatu. These experiences clarified and expanded her understanding of the challenges the Peace Corps volunteers have as they serve and work with the people of Vanuatu. She also gained insight as to how some of the Peace Corps volunteers are using the SolarSPELL. She says, “The SolarSPELL is a tremendous resource for the people of these communities who have few paper resources and very limited (if any) access to the internet”. She shares a few of her experiences here.
I met with one Peace Corps volunteer who enthusiastically spoke of a few ways he has used the SolarSPELL in his community. He is a health volunteer and works with a local governmental Aid Post Worker. An Aid Post is the smallest of the health care facilities in Vanuatu where a village health worker provides basic primary health care.
He explained that there is a “Momma’s House” in his community. The Momma’s House is managed by the women of the village and was designed specifically for the women of the village. He worked with the Chairwoman and committee to plan a series of health workshops for the women in the village utilizing the SolarSPELL. He told how some of the mothers downloaded children’s stories off of the SolarSPELL and to take home to share with their children. He said the women of the village also gained basic computer skills in this SolarSPELL workshop series, as well, which helped them become more familiar with and comfortable utilizing technology in general. These women can now share this knowledge with their children and hopefully ignite a love of learning. As a Registered Nurse, I see the possibility of tremendous impact of the SolarSPELL project.
When I first joined the SolarSPELL team as a Registered Nurse and student Nurse Practitioner, I was told of the remote villages where the Peace Corps volunteers served. I have traveled to Vanuatu with the SolarSPELL team a few times prior to this trip, and we visited a few villages that seemed remote at the time. However, on this trip I got to experience something beyond anything I have seen before. I share this story to emphasize how remote and isolated many of the people of Vanuatu and the Peace Corps volunteers are.
The flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Fiji is about 13 hours. Once in Fiji I transferred to a smaller plane to get to the capitol city of Port Vila, Vanuatu. This is a 2-hour flight. Next, I took a trip with a Peace Corps volunteer as he traveled back to his island from Port Vila. We boarded a small plane that took us on an hour-long flight to the island of Tanna where we were essentially stranded for a few days because there are only two flights out each week for us to travel to the next island we needed to get to. Finally, a few days later we were able to board a very small propeller plane which flew us for 30 minutes to the next island called Inyeug.
Once we landed, we had to take a 20-minute ocean ride on a small fishing boat to the island of Aneityum. Once we reached the island, in lieu of carrying supplies and walking for 3 hours to the village, we were able to board that small fishing boat again, this time filled to overflowing with people and supplies. This was now a 45-minute ocean ride which took us to our final destination: the village of Umej. Once on shore we then carried all of our gear on a 20-minute walk that ended at the water’s edge where a river and the ocean merge. All of the supplies had to be carried up out of the water while wading waist deep across about 30 yards of river. Finally, soaking wet, hot, and exhausted we walked again for the last few minutes until we arrived at the home where I would stay for a few days (next door to where this Peace Corps volunteer lives).
They call Umej the last village on the last island of Vanuatu. On the day I left to return to Port Vila there was a woman having some complications with her pregnancy who boarded the little fishing boat with me for the 45-minute boat ride to a Dispensary. A Dispensary is also a small post for health care. It is a little bigger than an Aid Post but the Dispensary is staffed with a Registered Nurse. There is no doctor on this and many of the islands of Vanuatu. If the complication this woman was having was beyond what the nurse could assist with the woman would then need to travel by boat and then by plane to a larger island where one of the three hospitals for the whole country is.
All of the work in designing and building each SolarSPELL is a way to bring an abundance of educational and healthcare related informational resources to locations like this. The information on the SolarSPELL library can improve the health and lives of the people of Vanuatu. It is an honor to be a part of this amazing project. I hope to always have a part on the SolarSPELL team making an impact around the world in remote and resource constrained areas.