FOR Vanuatu resort owner Joanne Wade it’s been the toughest 26 months of her life.
Ms Wade has owned Poppy’s on the Lagoon in Port Vila for 15 years and opened Friendly Bungalows some 10 years ago at Whitesands in Tanna.
However, when cyclone Pam struck Tanna with vicious force in 2015, the popular holiday accommodation was basically destroyed.
Speaking to the Independent this week, Ms Wade said she did not have any insurance to cover what was lost.
“The first week after Pam, I went on the first flight to Tanna – it was destruction like you would never believe because when seeing it on the television or in photos, it’s totally different than seeing it with your own eyes,” she said.
“There was nothing left but luckily there wasn’t anyone killed,” she said.
“I love Tanna very much. When I got out from the truck, my two managers that look after the place there came over and, you know, there was nothing to say so the manager found a piece of a tray and a lemon fruit on the sand and said my name.
“I cried because how will I find a lemon tree again and I sat down with both of them and said, how will we go ahead because everything is broken and gone.
“So the next day we went to the nakamal and had a big meeting with the community and the chiefs.
“Some of the leaders there don’t speak Bislama, they only speak their mother tongue, so it’s a bit hard but I tried to explain my situation because everyone thinks that an investor has a lot of money.”
Ms Wade said the truth is we are all the same, money comes and goes.
“So we know that insurance covers only the concrete houses and it’s not possible to get insurance for local buildings,” she said.
“I talked to the chiefs and said I don’t know what I will do now, so the chiefs talked about it and said, OK Joanne, Pam is the worst disaster in our lifetime for us.
“So they said if I don’t rebuild again it will be as bad a disaster as Pam because it is the main source of income for this community and if it is finished people will have no hope.
“So I said to the chiefs that I have no money to pay you guys, but they said if we help you, one day it will be coming back to us.”
Ms Wade said she decided to rebuild with the support of the three local communities in the area on Tanna who depend totally on this property to be operating.
Ms Wade’s son Lucas left his job in Australia to come and help his mum after Pam.
“He has a background in landscape architecture and so he helped by rebuilding the walls and everything at Poppy’s too,” she said.
“It was a big job to do and it took about a year to repair all of it,” she said.
“In Tanna as well we have many island bungalows so I don’t want to compete with the locals.
“I built four more houses, which I don’t like calling bungalows because I want to make competition with the big hotels, so that’s why I changed the name from Friendly Bungalows to Friendly Beach.
“It was differently built, making it more upmarket, more beautiful and glamorous, so it took a long time for this building to be done because I used the timbers from the trees that were destroyed by Pam.”
Ms Wade was the holder of the first Vanuatu Investment Promotion Authority (VIPA) certificate to be issued in Vanuatu – VIPA #1 and 1A – and the re-opening of the resort on May 26 will be attended by Deputy Prime Minister Joe Natuman, who is also Minister for Tourism.
Ms Wade has experienced joys and sadness throughout her journey in life.
Now, as she looks forward to the re-opening of Friendly Beach, she is sure the future holds more joy for herself, her family, her staff and the community in Tanna.