Vanuatu: What am I actually doing here?


I’ve been working as a volunteer here in Port Vila for a few weeks now and I’ve started to get a handle on what I’m doing here. Not in the existential sense, but the actual nuts and bolts of The Year I Spent in Vanuatu (as it shall be known when I recount tales from my rocking chair).

I am assigned to the curriculum development unit of Vanuatu’s Ministry of Education. That’s the place where they decide what to teach in schools and create the materials to do so.

This is the building in which I work. It’s in a place called Malapoa, which is a peninsula kind of opposite town, with only one road in, it’s the Wild West of Port Vila.


CDU is wedged between a primary school, the teachers’ college and a British-founded high school so there are always plenty of kids around. I love hearing the kids singing in class and screaming in the playground (along with the endless whine of a whipper-snipper and the tooting of mini-vans); it really helps remind you of the end user of all your hard labour.

DDU road

Way back when I first started looking to get back into work, I had a yen to “use my skills for good” with only a vague understanding of what that might mean. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it? Almost a year later, I finally got my wish. I’m working with the production team, helping to edit a new range of teachers’ guides. It’s super exciting because, for the first time, teachers are being encouraged to teach in their local languages instead of English or French.

The upshot of this is that the books are in Bislama, a kind of pidgin that developed when traders came to Vanuatu and basically kidnapped workers for banana and cane plantations in Australia, Fiji and other locations.

This week, as well as editing a Maths guide (in Bislama), I am giving a workshop on editing to our team of writers, and working with the designers to lay out templates and manage the huge volume of publications we will produce this year.

I’m lucky to be working with an incredible team of passionate educators. Here are few of the wonderful women working to raise up children in Vanuatu:


In addition to passion and wisdom, there is a healthy dose of hilarity in the office. I’ve never really understood the expression “peals of laughter” until now. When my colleagues (men and women included) get going, the sound of their laughter climbs the walls and leaps down into the room. It doesn’t take much to set it off, either. The office cat, the rat it didn’t catch in one of the writer’s drawers, that time we all just got the giggles just because.


The Minister of Education came to visit us last week; it was a huge affair. Some of my colleagues were up all night making leis from leaves and flowers for honoured guests. The rest of us made do with gaudy cheap plastic versions. The whole team looked marvellous.



The Minister was issued with a mat to say thank you for the visit. Many prayers were said, we shared lunch, we probably laughed about something after he left then got back to work.


So that’s what I’m doing here in Vanuatu for those of you who asked. Every day is an adventure, choose life!

Do you love your work? If not, what’s your dream job?

Interested in volunteering, click here (new assignments posted at the beginning of every month.)


  1. Meg says

    I’ve been eagerly anticipating this post. It sounds wonderful, what you’re doing and the people you’re doing it with – and within range of the sound of children. Thank you

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks Meg, it really is wonderful! I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to read about the work I’m doing here, so thanks for reading xx

  2. Sue Murray says

    Hi Jo, I’m loving your posts from Vanuatu. It’s a gorgeous place, with lovely people and your work is so important. Keep sending these updates – I look forward to them. Looking forward also to an visit soon from your inspirational mum, Libby.

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