Tucked into the belly of southwest Pentecost, an island in Vanuatu, by the Lonorore airport are a series of villages that line the coast.
While the smoke rises hesitantly from the huts dotting the coastline, four children are gently roused from sleep by their mothers. Some days are a lot harder for this group of children to leave their warm beds, especially when it’s raining.
A rainy day would mean holding a bush umbrella fashioned from the taut leaf of the giant ground taro, locally called the Navia taro, to keep dry. In case of a downpour, the first river they must cross becomes swollen and impassable. This means that one or several days of school are missed.
But today, they can rest easy as there is little chance of rain.
11-year-old Fleurly Tawan and Mary Sarne, are in classes 5 and 6. They are the oldest of the four children who make the almost 10km walk every morning from Lonorore Village to Ranmawot Primary School. The two younger children, 10-year-old Claudia Satne and the only boy in the group, 9-year-old Paul Tamse are in classes 5 and 3.
“My mother wakes me up before the rooster starts crowing," says Mary, the more confident of the children, who seems to be the default spokesperson. Fleurly on the other hand appears happy to just hang back a little.
“Mine wakes me up at four o'clock,” adds Paul.
For the four children, waking up and getting dressed so early is just part of their daily routines. Breakfast includes taro with island cabbage (island spinach), rice and egg, or crackers, and sometimes a tea made from lemon leaves or lemongrass.
At 6 am with the sun gently warming their skin, they set off for school with an assortment of dyed woven pandanus baskets slung across a shoulder that already has a backpack on. In their baskets, the children carry a snack for their morning tea break and lunch neatly wrapped and tied securely in laplap leaves that come from the thicker family of the banana plant.More