When Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu in 2015, Wendy Tomasi was working as an Officer of Women’s Affairs on the island of Tanna: one of the worst hit islands.
“When we were warned about the cyclone, the men didn’t believe that it would be a big deal. It was the women who pushed communities to prepare. They made sure that food was stored in safe, dry places and ran around telling everyone to take shelter from the storm,” Wendy said.
“Just before the cyclone hit, there were people walking around outside in the wind trying to find shelter. I ran around to them and called them into my house. I did everything I could to ensure that everyone around me was as safe as possible during the cyclone.
“And you know what?” Wendy asks. “Everything I instructed, the men paid attention to. I knew that it was up to me to make the right decisions. And it wasn’t just me who was leading and ensuring things were ok during the storm: all of the other women who had taken shelter in my home were instructing their families, too.
“In the end, we had 68 people in my little house, huddled together. We were jammed in, we could barely move, there were so many of us. We stayed awake until the cyclone passed, and then everyone fell asleep. It was 2am. I pulled a chair out from inside and sat just outside on my own in the quiet night while everyone inside slept. It took me a long time to calm down. Eventually, I was calm enough and I returned indoors, where I squeezed into a place on the floor and slept with the others.”
Photography credits: Jeff Tan/ActionAid