Lizzie, Vanuatu

Lizzie featured in JET magazine

Lizzie volunteered  as a teacher on one of the tropical islands of Vanuatu, and she has recently been featured in the careers magazine JET. Check out this interesting article about her time there and and be inspired..

Lizzie volunteered in Maewo in the north islands of Vanuatu.


So much time in Vanuatu is spent around food. Eating, preparing and sharing food. It seems appropriate that I share a story about laplap, one of the traditional foods of Vanuatu.

In Vanuatu, I lived on the island of Maewo, in a village called Asanvari. From June until December the other Lattitude volunteer and I were the only white people living in the village. There were lots of cultural differences and lots to get used to! Showering from a bucket, using a drop toilet, speaking in Bislama, teaching five days a week, spiders, rats and a totally different diet.

I embraced everything! Meg (the other gapper) and I were so lucky to be living with such beautiful people. We were both adopted by families, who showed us the ‘island’ way of doing things. We learnt how to scratch coconut and squeeze it into milk or cream, how to make fire in the bush kitchen to cook our food on, and how to catch rats (by digging a hole in the ground near the kitchen and placing a piece of coconut flesh at the bottom).

At 7.30am, Monday to Friday, I would begin teaching class five. I had 14 children in my class and a very outdated curriculum to use! I fell in love with my kids from day one. Once, during English class we made postcards together and imagined where we were writing them from. Lots of my children chose snowy, cold places as this was so hard for them to imagine! In one of my maths classes we went to the beach and drew shapes in the sand to work out the perimeter and area. At the end of the day, we would sing, pray, and then I would ask some of the children to bring some vegetables from their gardens to prepare my dinner with.

One afternoon Violet from my class and Belissa from class four brought some bananas over to our house. (Vanuatu has lots of different bananas: unripe, ripe, cooking, sweet.) Violet brought unripe bananas and Belissa ripe ones. We asks the girls if they wanted us to help us make laplap.

Excitedly, the girls agreed and we began grating the bananas into a sticky paste. We wrapped this pancake like mixture up with banana leaves and tied it like a present. I asked Violet if we were going to cook the laplap in a frying pan. Violet and Belissa burst out laughing and rolled around giggling for ten minutes! Meg and I had no idea what was happening and why it was so funny. However, these gorgeous ten yea old girls were so funny, giggling at us silly white women for not knowing how to cook laplap. It turns out you boil laplap in a pot of boiling water, which we eventually did and then ate together.

Living in such a small village, everyone knows everything. Violet had managed to tell my (adopted) grandma that I wanted to fry my laplap. For the next few days, the people of Asanvari talked about my cooking mistake. During the following months I ate much more laplap and had lots of laughs with the children. I showed them how to make popcorn, something they had never seen before and we giggled together when they were scared of it popping. We cooked taro chips, ate carrots from our garden, and made coconut custard. Somehow, the kids always managed to come back to how I didn’t know how to cook laplap, they really enjoyed that story.