My name is Matthew Lillis. I work as the Vanuatu Partnerships Manager for Engineers Without Borders New Zealand.
I am here in Vanuatu to visit and assess the status of one of our ongoing water supply projects ahead of a permanent volunteer coming out to carry on project work. That project is the Wawan project, and if you follow my blog you will become intimately familiar with it.
I'm also here to offer the support of EWB to the government, to local NGOs such as the Red Cross, community groups, and anyone else we can assist. EWB supplies engineers who volunteer their time and skills to provide engineering services where they are most needed (and often least afforded). It is the business of an engineer to wield the tools of our societies to realise a vision of a different future - be it one with an adequate water supply, secure shelter, better transport, improved healthcare, etc. Engineering services, whether in Vanuatu or in my home country of New Zealand, are expensive and generally available to those with money. EWB's vision is that they are available to all.
Tomorrow I will be flying out to Ambrym, where the Wawan project is based. Luganville has already intrigued me with it's friendly people, delicious food and vibrant streets and markets. Ambrym is far more remote, and I look forward to adventures ahead.
Luganville is hot and sticky at this time of year - 32 degrees during the day, and if I'm really lucky tonight it will plummet to a nice cool 27 degrees. I take another sip of water as I study the bustling street. Fully half the traffic consists of tiny taxis which hurtle around haphazardly, nimbly negotiatiating around the larger trucks and utes which comprise the remainder of the traffic. Vehicles drive on the right here. Legend has it that this was settled upon when the French and British agreed the next person to drive off a ship would determine the side of the road everyone would drive on. As my luck would have it, it was a Frenchman, so I now double take at every road crossing.
The mainstreet is extremely wide, a legacy of the American military presence during WW2, and a commander who insisted on being able to drive 4 trucks abreast through the town. On one side of the street a wide grassy park leads down to the ocean next to an open vege market, while the other side consists of a row of general stores, hotels, cafes and mobile phone outlet stores. The culture and architecture is an eclectic mix. Vaguely French inspired buildings remind me of my time in Morocco, while behind the mainstreet a series of repossessed American aircraft hangers are used as storage for the various goods which flow through here on the way to the outer islands. Shops and cafes are generally staffed by Nivans, but owned by expats of Commonwealth or Chinese origin.
This is the second largest town in Vanuatu at some 13,000 people. Vanuatu as a whole consists of a group of irregularly shaped islands stretching north to south. Luganville is on the largest of these, Espiritu Santo, and serves as the hub and bright centre of the northern islands.