VSA volunteers provide prisoners with opportunities


New Zealand Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA) workers are volunteering to support training opportunities for detainees as they reintegrate into society.

The husband and wife team Rob Wait and Katy Buess are putting their Invercargill-based business on hold in April to return to Vanuatu and continue their VSA work.

Skills for life

From leading building and carpentry projects to creating a commercial-standard kitchen environment, the VSA programme offers detainees the chance to acquire a range of marketable expertise.

His carpentry skills have been very useful in this respect, Wait says.

In the past, he’s helped detainees learn to build beds, tables and other furniture which they sell to raise funds. They also constructed an extension to their small wood workshop.

Wait says the workshop project began in 2009 when he and Buess were on assignment in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila. There he was provided with a little workshop in the Presbyterian Church.

It’s still in use as he discovered on a return trip last year.

Legacy of service

Being able to speak some Bislama language from previous VSA trips was “a massive help to gaining people’s trust” Wait says.

So is working with people.

He realised this before he went home in 2009 as he needed to ensure the workshop would continue operating after he’d gone home.

To that end, he employed local man Knox Regenvanu (pictured with Wait) to run it.

When Wait and Buess returned to Vanuatu last year, Regenvanu was still in charge.

Stretching the dough

Raising hygiene and food safety levels at the prison is another project Knox has undertaken.

His aim was to meet the standards required for detainees to be allowed to bake and sell bread.

The project scope includes generating enough income from bread sales to pay for the loaves the detainees consume themselves.

Wait says this is important as the detainees must generate their own revenue to keep these programmes operating.

He says the hygiene standards in the prison kitchen had been dreadful.

“It was like a triage situation – when you walked into the kitchen you had to put your nose in your shirt, and flies were buzzing around.

“There was no way you could sell anything out of that kitchen that people would want to buy before it was fixed up a little bit.”

Today the kitchen is clean. A fan keeps flies away while helping keep the kitchen floor dry.

The detainees have also installed a biogas plant, as the gas supply in Vanuatu is very expensive. This reduces costs and the need to buy expensive gas bottles, with food waste from the site being recycled to create gas for cooking.

About VSA

VSA is New Zealand’s largest and most experienced volunteering agency working in international development.

Every year it connects skilled people to share their experience and knowledge directly with local people and communities to create lasting, positive change across the Pacific and beyond.


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