In recent days, the entire population of 11,600 from Ambae, a small island in Vanuatu, have had to face the reality of leaving their homes, due to an escalating threat of the Monaro volcano erupting. The residents of Ambae do not know when, if ever, they will be able to return home.
The bulk of the evacuees are now in temporary evacuation centres on neighbouring islands Espiritu Santo, Maewo and Pentacost. For those with a disability, the move and adjusting to a new environment is particularly challenging. Disability services on Ambae are non-existent, which means that those with a mobility disability are unlikely to have their own mobility devices. With the upheaval of the move, loss of routines and supports, they are now in even greater need of the right mobility device, without which they will be unable to move about the evacuation centre to manage daily activities (for example access wash facilities, eating and cooking areas) and participate in meetings and decisions about their future.
Throughout the evacuation, Motivation Australia has been staying in close contact with our partners in Vanuatu; and as we receive more information confirming the need for wheelchairs and walking aids, we are preparing to respond. Working with local staff from Port Vila, trained through our current ‘Strengthening Mobility Device Services in the Pacific’ project, we will first visit Espiritu Santo, where the majority of the Ambae population have been relocated, to assess and prescribe walking aids and wheelchairs from stock recently donated by the Latter-day Saints Charities and managed by one of our partners, the Vanuatu Society for Persons with Disabilities.
At the same time as recognising and responding to the immediate need, Motivation Australia and our partners in Vanuatu are conscious that in providing mobility devices now, we will have a responsibility to follow up recipients in the future to make sure their devices are still working for them. As part of our initial response, we will continue to work with local stakeholders to strengthen local systems and train local personnel – so that mobility device recipients from Ambae can be followed up in the future.
For now – our aim is to improve the situation for these people now, at this time of incredible uncertainty, upheaval and disruption.