Bryan Roosien - Peace Corps Vanuatu.

Math major. Northern Michigan University.


Bryan is both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/.


16 June 2005 - First brief email from Vanuatu.

I have arrived in Vanuatu, and all is going well so far. The weather has been nice. The food has been good even beef is abundant and cheap here in Port Vila. Some time next week I will move from Port Vila to the training site.

Bryan in training.

The training group.


21 June 2005.

So far training has been going well. I just got through all of the medical training and started the methaquin (malaria medication). I only needed four shots for other immunizations so I got off lightly. Much of the rest of the training has involved learning Bislama.

The weather here has been great, its warm but not uncomfortably hot. I would send you some pictures, but my camera just died today, I am currently chatting with the support to figure out how to get it replaced. Other than that I have had no major problems though.

The main other thing of interest is that I have tried a bit of kava. It kind of tastes like pine needles and dirt. It makes your mouth feel slightly numb. I don't think its worth the taste though.

Bryan's house during PC training.


11 July 2005

I just received my site assignment. I will be going to Khole 1 on Santo. Khole is about 35-40 kilometers from Luganville. I will be working as a community forestry advisor. There is a nearby forestry research center that recently burnt down that I may also be working with. I will tell you more about it later. I will visit my site for one week starting Thursday.

From the original Peace Corps site description:

Khole 1 community is on northeast Espritu Santo Island about 35 kilometers drive north of Luganville. Luganville can be reached by a 45-minute flight from Port Vila. Khole 1 is a relatively new community that was formed some 20 years ago when Chief Kalep moved his village inland from the ocean where it was threatened by coastal erosion and flooding during hurricanes. It now stands on a small flat peninsula of land that has relatively good soils and a fair amount of tree cover. Khole 1 is one of the first villages that one encounters after leaving the copra and ranchlands that dominate the drive north. The community has roughly 200 residents who follow a traditional lifestyle and make their living from copra, traditional crops, cutting timber, cattle and employment on nearby ranches. Since the village's move inland, fishing has declined in importance. The community has a primary school but no secondary school; hence many of the young people go elsewhere to study. Khole 1 is located in an area of rich natural resources e.g. a bat cave, coconut crab habitat, natural forests and scenic coastline.

Northeast Santo is quite rugged with extensive coconut plantations, ranchlands, garden areas and bush. It is relatively heavily populated with most of the small villages located both on the coast and some inland. It is a very productive agricultural area with a diverse assortment of tropical crops. While the mainstay of the rural economy continues to be copra, some cocoa and black pepper are also grown for the export market and sent to Luganville. However, since land is abundant, the people are pretty much self sufficient in staples. Forestry and subsistence fishing are secondary activities with some potential. However, Northeast Santo's economy, like that of many islands, has been deeply affected by the substantial decline in copra prices. As a result the island's farmers are looking to diversify production and improve local processing and marketing. The women are also looking to start up small businesses that can give them more disposable income.

About five kilometers northeast of Khole 1, Chief Kalep and his family have established a small protected area, the Loru Conservation Area, with the help of a British NGO Vanuatu Protected Areas Initiatives (Roy Hill, Director). The Loru Conservation Area serves as a model for a private conservation area and its education center is occasionally used for small environmental workshops. Forestry and cattle play an important role in the economy of Khole 1. The Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific (FSP) and the Forestry Department have worked in Khole 1 and surrounding villages to support community forestry and extractive activities. The Forestry Dept. through the Learn Project is promoting small-scale natural forest regeneration and enrichment planting with high value timber trees. Approximately, 10 kms from Khole 1 lies the Forestry Department's research facility and tree nursery. Khole 1 lies just off the main road that goes towards Hog Harbor's famous beaches and the Vatthe Conservation area at Matantas. Hence Khole 1 lies at an important crossroads for conservation and ecotourism in the area.

A banyan tree.


27 July 2005

I recently returned from my site visit. Khole is a great town. Nice people and good food. Santo is a beautiful island; there is a lot to do there both in terms of work and recreation. My visit went well, except that PC thought my flight was on the day before my departure, and I thought it was in the morning when it was in fact in the evening. I rushed to the airport in the morning to find it empty, and that my flight did not leave until 5:30 at night. When I arrived for my plane I found out that PC had been looking for me all day and was expecting me in Villa the day before.


8 September 2005

The site I will be working at is Khole 1 on Espiritu Santo. It is a town about 35-40 km north of Luganville, which is the main town on Santo. The town has about 300 people, and seems to be fairly well organized. When I visited the town during the middle of July. The entire town was busy preparing for a large gathering for the Presbyterian Church. The gathering should have finished a couple of weeks before I arrive at the site.


There are a number of projects that I may work with in the town. There is a youth project that currently makes smokeless stoves and bamboo/rattan and wooden furniture. (It should be noted that youth is a much broader term in Ni Vanuatu culture as it may include teenagers to those in their mid forties.) My main counterpart with that project is Wilson. The next step Wilson would like to take with the project is to get lights for the project so that they can work at night. I am some what skeptical about how helpful lights would be, but it may be a goal for them to work towards and may thus provides some motivation to do some of the other things which need to be done. My first priority will be to help the project with basic management, keeping records, and keeping track of their tools. I would also like to help them set up a small tree nursery and help them plant some bamboo. There are a couple of reasons for setting up a tree nursery and planting bamboo. The main reasons are to increase the sustainability of the project by assuring a supply of materials needed for the project, and to involve more people, or at least spread out the benefits of the project to more people. The species that I would like to work with include sandal wood (Santalum austo-calidonicum), natapoa (Terminalia catappa), nangai (Canarium indicum), white wood (Endosperm medullosum), and mahogony.


Another project that was started by previous volunteers is a beef project. The butcher one animal about every 2 weeks and have a couple of freezers in which to store the meat. The money has been used to fund the Presbyterian convention that will just have gotten over when I arrive back in Khole. I may be able to provide assistance with long term planning and management of that project. My main counterpart with that project is Ivaro Boaz. He has not expressed any specific goals he is interested in yet. A related project that I may be involved with is cow milking. I may help facilitate bringing in some people from agriculture to give a milking workshop and get some people utilizing that resources instead of buying imported powdered milk. Also related to livestock is the improvement of pasture in Khole. There is currently a bit of a problem with Urena lobata in the copra/cattle plantations. I may be working to develop a good management plan to control that invasive species as well as others on grazing land. The main contact persons for working with weeds in pasture lands are Lonnie Bong in Villa, and Steven Boe in Luganville. I have not met with Steven yet as he has been in Japan training. There is also a fowl project in the town. I don't know if it is functioning and I have not talked with the manager yet.


The current chief of Khole 1 is Chief Kaleb. The main concern that he expressed to me was that I would work with as many people as possible and help everyone in the village to benefit from any development. He has also set up a conservation area with the help of Roy Hills who works for an environmental NGO. It is possible that I may work a bit with Chief Kaleb and his family with the management of the conservation area.


Joseph Sianot is the former Chief in Khole 1 and is chairman of the water project and aid post. Currently all their water comes from rain catchment and is drinkable but there are some limitations with the amount of water during some times of the year. They have a system of taps installed and shared a water tank with a number of other communities. The other communities were closer to the tank so the water seldom reached Khole. They just finished a new tank and were planning on testing it shortly after I visited the site. A diesel water pump pumps up the water to the tank from a stream. I have also heard that there are some problems with the quality of the watershed. I have not yet seen the pump or the place where the water is pumped from.


I also will be working with the Department of Forestry's Research center, which is a few km from Khole. They have a small nursery and a few trial plots that they are working with. James Toa lives in Khole and works at the research station. Two other men Atchison Smith and Meseck also work at the research center. They seemed very interested in any support I could give them with their nursery as well as any other projects. They also seemed very interested in helping me establish a nursery in Khole as well.


Back in Vila I met a couple of other useful contacts in Vila. Charles Rogers works with Farmer Support Association and is a good resource for working with cattle and other agricultural issues. Charles Long Wah owns a company exporting nuts and other high value crops and provides information on markets and processing to farmers. Gilbert Gibson works with and promotes bee keeping in Vanuatu.


Mt. Yasur, also spelled Yassur at times.

Eruption on Mt. Yasur.

Bryan on Mt. Yasur.

Dance on Tanna.

Tanna.

Tanna, notice the conservation work in the lower left corner.

Vila.


20 November 2005

I live in a house with woven bamboo walls and a thatched roof. I have a separate building for cooking in which I now have a gas stove. There is no running water or electricity. Therefore I tend to go to sleep and wake up rather early. Most mornings I eat by myself, most often musilie (a granola kind of cereal) with powdered milk. Most dinners I eat with families, most often with the family of the chief of the village. Most often the dinners consist of rice or laplap (taro, manioc, yams, or plantains baked with coconut milk) with a local type of cabbage and possibly meat (beef fish or pork most often).

Probably the worst local food I have tried is flying fox (large bat) which is a dark meat with a rather strong taste. Fortunately it doesn't taste quite as bad as it smells. The best local food is a dish called symboro which is a kind of laplap wrapped in local cabbage and boiled rather than baked.

Most of my days are pretty unstructured, except for Wednesday during which I walk up to a research station that the department of forestry has about 8-10 km from the village. Right now I mostly just follow along and help out with what they are doing, but I am trying to convince them to bring up a computer to the station so that they can record their data electronically and back it up in a number of places. They recently lost years of data in a fire which burned down the forestry and agriculture offices in Luganville. I am also starting to work with the Wantok environmental center in a protected area that the chief of the village owns. I am trying to set up resurveying some sample plots that were set up 10 years ago.

Most of my work right now is just getting to know the community and trying to learn the local language. They speak Bislama most of the time, but still use the local language as well. The local language is fairly difficult to learn and I am struggling with it. Bislama on the other hand is very easy to learn, however it is still difficult to talk about some things because the language has such a limited vocabulary and no precision.

Over all I am doing alright and am staying pretty healthy, though I may be a bit lighter. I seem to have lost a few kilos over during the training.


6 December 2005 - A few odd things that happen in Peace Corps.

I would like to inform you that PC has reclaimed my phone to send it to a volunteer that may need to be evacuated due to a volcano recently becoming active. So if you send or sent me a text message since last Sunday, you will or have sent the message to someone else. Otherwise I am doing fine and have suddenly gone from having almost nothing to do to being quite busy. I plan to be surveying some sample plots in the protected area near by, and setting up a timber harvest in another protected area. The timber harvest is not ideal but they need money as a result of a number of legal difficulties, so my job is to attempt to see to it that the harvest is done with a minimal impact to the protected area. I also have a workshop to attend this week on Thursday.


16 December 2005 - excerpts from a quarterly report.

Most of the work I have done over the last quarter was just getting to know the community, and attempting to learn the local language. I frequently have dinner with various families in Khole and visit with them in their gardens, copra plantations, or near the ocean. I also spend a fair amount of time joining with the community in activities such as attending church and playing soccer. Although I do not drink kava I occasionally swing by a nakamal to talk with people as well. Although I have not done any formal surveys of resources I have asked many questions in an informal setting. I have been able to gather a lot of information about the community and local environment in that manner; however it is a slow process of learning what questions to ask.

More formally I have attended an agricultural workshop at which I gave a short presentation on the value of composting and mulching. Attending the workshop allowed me to meet a number of extension workers and employees of the department of agriculture. I was also able to assess some of their strengths and weaknesses. They seem to have a pretty good grasp of how to collect data, but they could use some help with organizing and interpreting the data they collect so that they are able to effectively advise farmers. Often data is collected and improperly interpreted, or in many cases is just lost.

Most of the work I have done over the last quarter was just getting to know the community, and attempting to learn the local language. I frequently have dinner with various families in Khole and visit with them in their gardens, copra plantations, or near the ocean. I also spend a fair amount of time joining with the community in activities such as attending church and playing soccer. Although I do not drink kava I occasionally swing by a nakamal to talk with people as well. Although I have not done any formal surveys of resources I have asked many questions in an informal setting. I have been able to gather a lot of information about the community and local environment in that manner; however it is a slow process of learning what questions to ask.

More formally I have attended an agricultural workshop at which I gave a short presentation on the value of composting and mulching. Attending the workshop allowed me to meet a number of extension workers and employees of the department of agriculture. I was also able to assess some of their strengths and weaknesses. They seem to have a pretty good grasp of how to collect data, but they could use some help with organizing and interpreting the data they collect so that they are able to effectively advise farmers. Often data is collected and improperly interpreted, or in many cases is just lost.

When I arrived in Khole the church gathering had just finished. People were busy catching up on planting their yams and shelling out copra to pay school fees for their children. Water was very limited as the gathering used up most of the water stored in their tanks. On occasion the water would run in the taps, however not reliably. The water system is shared with a cattle ranch/ coconut plantation and 5 other communities. There were supposed to be some cattle which were to be raised and sold periodically to provide funds for fueling the water pump, however the there was a dispute over the land were the cattle were to be raised so money must come from the communities, but they are not very organized and a community pays for fuel when they want the water to run and hopes that a sufficient amount of the water comes to them. It is now the rainy season so water problems have been forgotten and people seem most interested in acquiring more lawn mowers for the town.

The climate, soils, and culture have significant impacts on the types of natural flora, and on the types of cultivated plants which grow in east Santo. These factors also have a large impact on the economic opportunities for the people living here. The climate is humid tropics with frequent cyclones during the rainy and hot season from November to March. This has a significant impact on the naturally occurring flora in the area, favoring trees with complex root structures. (Bowen unpublished) As a result planting exotic species such as Mahogany can be risky if they are not protected by other trees.

The soils of east Santo are fertile clay loam soils atop coral bed rock. I have found a more detailed description of the soils, which I hope to include in my next report but I will need to learn to read French first.

Copra or dried coconut is the main cash crop. Minor cash crops include kava, tobacco, and vegetables. The main subsistence crops are yams, taro, manioc, bananas, and island cabbage. Cattle, pigs, and chickens are also kept. High transport cost is a major constraint to the economic development in the area. Currently the cost of hiring a pickup truck to transport goods to town is 4000 vatu or a little less than $40.00. There is a cooperative in Port Olry that also buys copra, which gives them an alternative to selling their copra in town. Cattle are often sold to buyers in Luganvile; however one must have 6 export quality animals for a truck to be sent for their transport. They some times also sell their cattle to the local butchery, or kill them for a kava diner fundraiser. These fundraisers are often the preferred way that they raise money for a family to pay school fees or for any community project. However little if any money is often made by the dinner portion of the fundraiser, and it just circulates money from the community rather than bringing money into the community from outside.

The people are also rather new to the cash economy and have a lot of difficulty managing money. Men tend to be better educated; however women are generally more disciplined about spending money and tend to be better managers of household finances. Family is very strong in Vanuatu and parents have a large say in the affairs of their adult children. The family structure is changing were the younger generations are becoming more independent of their elders, which at times causes a good deal of friction in the society. Land disputes lead to many other social problems. Khole has been fortunate enough to avoid most of these problems directly; however the Chief and other leaders in the community spend a significant amount of their time involved in settling disputes in other communities.

Another major social constraint in Vanuatu is that every one always wants to do the same thing. Every one will want to try vanilla or coffee then before they get good at doing that they all want to try the next thing that every one seems to be doing. Diversifying their economy is a hard sell in Vanuatu but I think that it is necessary for the future development of the country.

Copra dryer


Invasive weeds are a significant problem in pastures, gardens, and for establishing trees on cleared land. The two species that seem to be the most troublesome in pastures in East Santo are Piko (Solanum torvum) and Hibiscus burr (Ureana lobata). Piko often dominates pastures which have been overgrazed in full sunlight. Hibiscus burr often dominates overgrazed pastures with partial shade, often underneath coconut palms. In the absence of cattle invasive vines often dominate open areas. The main problematic plants in this case are American rope (Mikania micrantha) and big leaf rope (Merremia peltata), both of which are eaten by cattle.


The vines are difficult to control in gardens, and make it difficult to establish trees on land that has been cleared. Most trees of economical significance need to be weeded frequently until they are large enough to either shade out other plants or they are large enough to graze cattle underneath them. Most of the studies that the forestry department has conducted on Santo have been done with rather large spacing, although I have seen small plantings of tightly planted trees growing in certain areas in east Santo.


Much of east Santo has been heavily logged much land remains cleared and over run with the vines mentioned above, either due to land disputes the land remains unused or often there is just a lack of labor or motivation to make use of the land. Timber is cut and sold for local or domestic use. Smaller poles are frequently cut for local housing, along with bamboo and natangora palm.


The Loru protected area was set aside to save a small amount of forest from the logging activities that have been going on in the area. However a few trees were poached from the area a few years back. The area serves as a refuge for wild life such as birds, bats, and coconut crabs.


17 March 2006 - Excerpts from Bryan's quarterly report.

Over the past quarter I have continued to meet with people in the village and I continue to learn what is going on in the community. Khole had a town meeting in early January which I attended and learned a lot about what is and was going on in the community. I have attempted to get the youth project working again. The committee has changed, and I have tried to get them to gather all of the tools and finical records for the project but I haven't been able to get them to do either of these things. I do not intend to do it for them. I still don't really know exactly what is going on with it as people always tell me something different and blame who ever is not present at the time. Thus far I have not pushed hard for anyone to do anything. I have taken that approach for a couple of reasons. One is that I think if I push them to get some thing done it won't be done, once I leave. The other reason is that I really have to many projects that I am working with and I don't want to waste time on projects that people aren't really interested in or have the motivation to work on.

I have continued to work with Wantok Environment Center. I still have not found most of the permanent sample plots in the Loru conservation area, and we have not found the data from the previous survey. The researcher who conducted the original surveys has not replied to our inquiry of weather she has a copy of the data or a record of the location of the plots. I also made an evaluation of a potential timber sale near Vatthe conservation area with Tarare of the department of forestry. I have attempted to contact a bat researcher who previously assessed the bat populations in the Loru caves to get his advice on how much tourism can be allowed without harming the bats. I have not heard back from him. Sam Nisa another man in Khole also has caves with bats and is interested in setting up some kind of tourism activities.

Another major social constraint in Vanuatu is that every one always wants to do the same thing. Every one will want to try vanilla or coffee then before they get good at doing that they all want to try the next thing that every one seems to be doing. Diversifying their economy is a hard sell in Vanuatu but I think that it is necessary for the future development of the country.


Invasive weeds are a significant problem in pastures, gardens, and for establishing trees on cleared land. The two species that seem to be the most troublesome in pastures in East Santo are Piko (Solanum torvum) and Hibiscus burr (Ureana lobata). Piko often dominates pastures which have been overgrazed in full sunlight. Hibiscus burr often dominates overgrazed pastures with partial shade, often underneath coconut palms. In the absence of cattle invasive vines often dominate open areas. The main problematic plants in this case are American rope (Mikania micrantha) and big leaf rope (Merremia peltata), both of which are eaten by cattle.


The vines are difficult to control in gardens, and make it difficult to establish trees on land that has been cleared. Most trees of economical significance need to be weeded frequently until they are large enough to either shade out other plants or they are large enough to graze cattle underneath them. Most of the studies that the forestry department has conducted on Santo have been done with rather large spacing, although I have seen small plantings of tightly planted trees growing in certain areas in east Santo.


Much of east Santo has been heavily logged much land remains cleared and over run with the vines mentioned above, either due to land disputes the land remains unused or often there is just a lack of labor or motivation to make use of the land. Timber is cut and sold for local or domestic use. Smaller poles are frequently cut for local housing, along with bamboo and natangora palm.


23 March 2006

The weather’s still hot, and the flies keep getting worse. You have to be careful about breathing too hard with your mouth open to avoid choking on the flies when you go for a run.


27 March 2006

Two recent photos:


A coconut plantation.

Lunch



Vanuatu Information:

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Updated: 3 May 2006.

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