Our organisation has been providing support and services for people with disabilities (PWD) in Vanuatu for more than 28 years. We grew from a small group of parents and friends of people with disabilities, started in 1986 as part of Vanuatu Red Cross. The founding members wanted to fill the gap in support for people with disabilities in Vanuatu. The voluntary group of Ni-Vanuatu and expats organised social activities for PWD and supplied wheelchairs through overseas donations. Our current building in Colordeau, Port Vila, was donated to the disabled society by Home Affairs Minister Sethy Regenvanu, on behalf of the Vanuatu Government, in 1987 to ensure PWD always had a place to find support.
The committee became a separate organisation in the late 1980s as more community members outside of the parents’ group saw the need to assist PWD. The group took on the name Nakato Society Blong Vanuatu. Nakato, meaning “hermit crab” in the local language Bislama, represented people’s negative perception of PWD at the time and how the organisation aimed to reverse it.
The society changed its name to the Vanuatu Society for Disabled People in 1991 and the Christian Blind Mission committed to supporting services and staff at the organisation. Vanuatu’s first disability fieldworkers – Marinette Twomey, Arthur Simrai, Tom Toswel and Daisy Roberts – joined VSDP and completed their training in Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR). A CBR outreach program to PWD was launched with regular field visits to islands all around Vanuatu. Three of the original fieldworkers continue to implement disability services to VSDP clients today.
By 2001, VSDP had six fieldworkers assigned to all of Vanuatu’s provinces. Tragically in 2002, Daisy died in a boating accident while visiting clients in the Shepherd Islands. In 2010, our fieldworkers, Knox Morris and Marinette Twomey, completed certificates in Community Disability and Rehabilitation at the Fiji School of Medicine.
CBM provided 20 years of support and aimed to transition across to local funding by 2011. Unfortunately such funding was not available by then and CBM stopped funding the organisation at the end of December 2011. The following years were very hard for the organisation. Some field workers and staff found roles elsewhere, and others continued to provide disability services on a voluntary basis.
“When we lost funding we were going to have to close the door but I said let’s keep it open. It was a very difficult time,” says VSPD Executive Director Elison Bovu.
By 2012, community members realised that there were PWD who desperately needed the support and services that VSPD provided. The society began to come back to life with the help of private donations and international aid donors.
In recent years we have revitalised our Community Based Rehabilitation program. Our fieldworkers continue to carry out rehabilitation work and disability awareness in communities around Vanuatu. In 2009 we started a pilot Early Intervention Program for children with disabilities to improve their developmental skills from a young age. The program now runs four mornings a week at four community sites around Port Vila.
In 2016 we changed our name to the Vanuatu Society for People with Disability. Our programs and client base continue to grow and we strive to continually improve our programs so we can meet the needs of those with disabilities in Vanuatu.