Posted by Allan Cann on May 03, 2023

After several years of setbacks, the small rural village of Mwast, on the island of Espiritu Santo, 25 km north of the city of Luganville, has two new school classrooms and an office.   

The project began in 2017, at the suggestion of Woodend Rotarians Allan and Shirley Cann, who have volunteered business mentoring for many years in Vanuatu. 

‘We noticed that many primary school-age children were not attending school and were told by the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) that many parents could not afford to send children to school, and many schools were so overcrowded, that new children were turned away’ 

The Rotary Club of Woodend undertook to raise the funds to build new classrooms.  A budget of $100,000 was allocated, and the project was made possible by a grant from the Rotary Foundation; the commitment of the Rotary Club of Woodend; and the generosity of the Rotary Clubs of Wendouree, Werribee, Yarra Bend, Kardinia and Swan Hill Sunrise.  The Woodend community also supported the project with generous donations, particularly through a collection tin at Bourkies Bakehouse and community events. 

Originally, the classrooms were to be built on the island of Ambae, but due to a volcanic eruption, the island was evacuated and some of the villagers relocated to Mwast.  Mwast is reached by a 60-minute drive along a tortuous 4-wheel drive track.  Some students and staff have a long walk to the school and, due to the distance, they spend the week at the school, using the school buildings as sleeping quarters after classes finish. 

In early 2018, RC Woodend signed an MOU with the MoET for design, supervision and construction of the school.  The Rotary clubs paid for the materials and local villagers undertook the construction. 

In November 2019, Allan, Shirley and RC Woodend member, Tony Longton, visited Vanuatu to review progress.  They found the concrete slab poured; the concrete blockwork finished; and preparation started for roof construction. 

However, in 2020, Cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu, causing damage in the village, but fortunately not to the school buildings, which had been built to cyclone standard.  Then Covid-19 arrived, and Vanuatu was closed to travellers, causing a halt in construction for 2 years. 

In June 2022, MoET  was able to recommence construction, using funds from the Australian Government Cyclone Harold Reconstruction fund. 

The Rotary Club of Woodend is delighted to finally see the completion of the project.  The official school opening ceremony will be held mid 2023 and a self-funded group from the club is planning to attend. 

Photo left: Woodend Rotarians Allan Cann and Terry Longton on the Building Site    Photo right: School Principal, Diallo Wabak and Wooded Rotarian Shirley Cann