An IsraAID disaster assistance team recently ended its first visit to the remote islands of Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean, where they helped locals recover from the massive damage caused by Cyclone Pam. While there they learned something surprising - the islanders love Israel.
The Israeli team, together with Tongoa parliament representative MP John Amos and a team of local volunteers, distributed over 40 tons of rice, flour and drinking water to residents of the Tongoa and Mataso islands in Vanuatu.
Members of the team found that "everyone here loves Israel," noting that the reaction they got from locals learning they were from Israel was a pleasant surprise.
In one island village they met David, a man who lost his entire house and had his water tank polluted by the storm damage, who was moved upon learning the team was from Israel.
The crew reports he picked up a damaged book from his ruined living room, excitedly pointing to a page mentioning "light through the darkness," a scriptural reference to the Jewish people being a "light unto the nations" by holding a high standard of behavior and justice.
The situation on the remote island of Tongoa was certainly encapsulated by the words "darkness," with the entire island still without clean water, food, medicine, and electricity, as schools, homes and crops were all destroyed.
IsraAID left the island promising to return with more supplies, which it plans to bring to other remote islands of Vanuatu that were hard hit by the cyclone. In the coming days a third crew is to leave Israel, and will include medical and psycho-social staff as well as a water engineer.
While in Tongoa, the chief of a small village broke down in tears as he described to the Israeli crew "it’s been ten days since the disaster, and these are the first supplies we have received."
The village contains 42 households without any road access - after the storm, only four structures remain standing. Residents lined up excitedly to receive aid from the team.
Other villages on the islands of Tongoa and Mataso were in the same dire situation, and IsraAID's team traveled to 12 villages and all eight schools on the islands to distribute aid. All the schools were completely destroyed.
In the village of Kurumambe they met the family of Jennifer Daniel and her four children, between the ages of one and nine.
Despite having lost their home and the school the children attended, IsraAID mission head Yotam Polizer remarked how inspiring their positive attitude was.
"Despite everything that happened to them, Jennifer was proudly explaining to us how she protected her children underneath a white plastic cover. Our team was amazed by people’s resilience and strength," noted Polizer.