The 21st century without mobile phones. Unimaginable to most people in the Western world, but a reality to the people of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. For some Vanuatu people mobile phone technology has only just become a reality. But is it real?
(1888PressRelease) July 11, 2008 - Imagine having access to a mobile phone, with little or no knowledge of the wider world community, apart from what Hollywood portrays on DVDs.
A new telecommunication company in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, is providing an unbalanced view of what life is all about. Technology savvy youth eagerly clutch their newly acquired mobile phones in their hot little hands, in the capital, Port Vila, but have little understanding of world wide communications. Most never travel in a car, have never left their tropical islands, or understand what it is to live in a busy highly populated city.
The 83 tropical islands of the Vanuatu archipelago are spread over a distance of 700 plus kilometers. Communication has never been easy, because of the remote distances between the isolated communities and often rough seas. Important family and community tales, traditions and customs, expertise and genealogy have been handed down through the ancient oral culture of song, dance, carving and sand drawing.
Communications that were available in Vanuatu, were under the control of only one company, which led to a very expensive monopoly. In 2008, the Vanuatu government opened the country for competition in the telecommunications industry.
The ‘Mr-come-lately’ communication has turned Vanuatu on its head. It promises a nation-wide coverage, cheap phones and cheap top-up schemes, but only with their company.
For first time, large glossy billboards tower high above the heads of the people, who for the most part move around on foot only. These people think nothing of walking six hours to meet with family, or go to church. Doctor’s are non-existent and electricity is not available. After dark it is lights out with a vengeance, as the only light available is fire light.
One or two of the ‘wealthy’ Ni-Vanuatu people have solar powered DVD players and these are crowded around eagerly by the entire village.
Now horizon blotting billboards fill the horizon with the promise of easy communication between each other, through the recently introduced mobile phone network.
For young people, who have moved to the capital Port Vila and are living far from their home islands, there is a very limited communication with their family members. The advent of mobile phones may improve this. That is providing you have the money to buy a phone and are able to feed its ever demanding refill charges. After all, nothing comes for free.
The communication revolution impact on communities may be both positive and negative. No such thing as government paid unemployment benefits in Vanuatu. The need to get a job will take on an even greater importance. Petty theft may increase dramatically as the demand for cash increases.
Yet, in these new events of telecommunications, the remote tropical islands of Vanuatu have once more missed out. Modern technologies have proved expensive to install in the outer regions.
The Vanuatu government has therefore focused its systems on the main island of Efate, providing only solar powered telephones for random villages.
Many parts of Vanuatu have ‘no-cash’ economies. Someone has to gather the money to purchase a phone and the phone card and there is no guarantee the phone system is available, or operable, once they do manage to scrape up enough cash.
Education is not free in Vanuatu. Living in a no-cash economy means parents are unable to provide school fees, or the money for transport to the schools on other islands, or the capital.
The horrifying results of a survey in 1999 have changed little:
· only 55.8% of Vanuatu kids will get to grade 6;
· of those only 18.2% will go to high school ;
· 26% will never go to school at all.
YouMe Support Foundation is one of the few charities raising funds for these children. Their Child Trust Fund provides non-repayable high school education to the children of the Outer Islands.
They will see the high achievers of the next generation become more than technology savvy youths. They will assist these isolated communities to take a quiet step into the 21st century, while retaining the unique beauty of their ancient customs and traditions.
These people need your help, as they struggle to gain a balanced view of the wider community.