Vanuatu volunteer 'rewarded'
The Vanuatu village where Emma Hyde spent her school holidays volunteering was crowded with barefoot children, lined with ramshackle tin sheds and ravaged by Cyclone Lusi.
The St Peter's College student has returned to Palmerston North after doing charity work in a small settlement near Port Vila.
Emma, 16, was one of 11 teenagers from New Zealand who, through the volunteer group Break Free Expeditions, travelled to the South Pacific island to help with recovery work post the cyclone.
She spent two weeks in a poverty-stricken suburb building a two-room brick house for mother and daughter, Monmon and Mary.
Emma said Mary was due to be married but plans fell through, which meant she was shunned from her village, beaten and raped; and the pair had nowhere to live after their house was blown down during the cyclone.
"I thought there were poor people in New Zealand, or what we would consider poor in our society, but going over there, there was just poverty everywhere and poverty I could never have imagined, especially on that kind of scale," Emma said.
The 6- by 7-metre brick house Emma helped build had primitive plumbing and electricity, a small veranda, windows and working locks - all considered luxuries.
"On the last night we had a house dedication, where we gave the keys over and they walked into their house for the first time, and their gratitude was staggering," Emma said.
"All I was thinking, which was so selfish of me, was how much of a great time I had and how much I got from it but I had forgotten how much Monmon and Mary were getting, which was a safe house to live in.
"I was just so thankful that they had invited us and let us into their community.
"The most rewarding thing was being able to say I helped impact someone's life, or change it, even just a little bit."
The Manawatu Standard