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After Cyclone Pam: rebuilding a community multimedia space

Posted on 27/06/2019
By Further Arts

When the category five Tropical Cyclone Pam hit on 13 March 2015⁠—packing winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour⁠—people in Vanuatu were in a state of disbelief.

‘No one was ready,’ recalled Further Arts General Manager, Viviane Obed. ‘There were warnings but nobody took them seriously. At the Government level, there was little preparedness. [In evacuation centres] the quality was very poor; toilets were not working and many families were moved to them at the very last minute.’

At Further Arts’ Nesar Studio, a community multimedia space designed to train and support local artists, it was business as usual: the staff and members just expected the cyclone to pass through without causing much disturbance.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away [….] there was water everywhere.’

Nesar Studio is located just outside of the capital, Port Vila, on a hilltop in a residential area. The studio was created by Further Arts, a local NGO, in collaboration with youth and local communities, as a place for anyone to sign up and benefit from various media education projects and initiatives. Nesar refers to ‘nasara’: a word which translates locally as a ceremonial meeting place within a village for the intergenerational transmission of ‘kastom’⁠—knowledge and wisdom through song, dance, art, and other practices. Nesar Studio is named as such because it resembles a digital, urban nasara, imparting skills in new media so local artists can transmit messages and knowledge. Providing the community with education on these tools is a powerful means to enact change, enabling people to realise their rights to voice.

‘Before Pam hit, Nesar Studio was a centre for many youths in this area. Youth came here with interests in media, video, handling a camera or microphone for the first time, doing interviews, taking photos, and things like that,’ recalled Marcel Meltherorong, a local artist and Nesar Studio member and crew.

‘On Friday the 13th when the wind picked up, we were all at our own homes nailing down roofs and covering windows. But little had been done at the office to prepare it for what was coming⁠—we didn’t expect it to be so ferocious! Once night fell, the storm grew stronger and you couldn’t see anything… you just heard it—things breaking, cracking, landing, and crashing.’

During the proceeding cleanup, Marcel recalled that people helped one another; families helped other families to rebuild homes, and then helped to clear the roads.

When staff and crew finally made their way back to the organisation’s headquarters a few days after the cyclone, the streets were emptied out and damage to the office was colossal.

‘Half of the building’s roof was down on the road, 100 metres away. The wind had thrown it there. Most of the equipment inside was damaged, and there was water everywhere… it’s hard to describe it… I mean, this was where Further Arts and Nesar Studio was born!

‘When Pam hit, it was like this big space was just gutted. Everyone was feeling very down after that’ Marcel said.

Following the devastation, Further Arts staff and crew moved into a smaller space in town.

‘We weren’t discouraged, even though we lost the building. We kept going and didn’t give up because we were passionate about what we did,’ said Roselyn Tari, the Production Co-ordinator at the time.

Before long, Further Arts made an appeal to its key partners and donors for their assistance in rebuilding, and received generous support from many, including new opportunities for growth and activity.

‘When the idea to rebuild came about after Pam, we were all so happy—even though we had to start from zero—to train members and recreate that space. People were starting to feel hopeful again’ Marcel said.

The success of rebuilding was based on Further Arts’ deep networks and partnerships, both in-country and internationally. Working with the local community was also important to ensure that the new space could accommodate the needs of its stakeholders.

Further Arts was extremely fortunate to receive assistance from the Commonwealth Foundation so that it could continue its work. The funding supported the studio to conduct a needs assessment amongst its membership, and then purchase multimedia equipment and train members in its use. This enabled the facility to continue its work relatively quickly, which lifted morale during a very hard time.

Everyone agrees that disaster readiness and preparedness has become a major priority in the community following Cyclone Pam. Further Arts itself has begun implementing stronger disaster preparedness measures to mitigate future disaster impact to its resources and personnel.

‘It’s the work you do before the storm that is most important. Really, these storms, they’re just a part of our lives,’ the organisation’s Finance Officer, Ladonna Daniel, pointed out.

Production Co-ordinator Gina Kaitiplel believes Further Arts Nesar Studio has a very bright future because of all the work it has done supporting young people and local communities.

‘Further Arts has become a main powerhouse to support communities in Vanuatu through multimedia, arts and culture. It helps individuals within the community to know where they come from, and what the true meaning of culture is. And it does that by building the knowledge of young people in the media industries.’

This post was written collaboratively between Further Arts and Nesar Studio staff and crew.