Supporting family and community back home is the reason Ni-Vanuatu workers came to New Zealand and that is even more important after cyclones, a community leader says.

Cyclone Lola hit the Vanuatu archipelago at Labour Weekend leaving a trail of destruction including damage to communication infrastructure, leaving New Zealand-based Ni-Van workers unsure what was happening at home.

Grape Vision team leader and supervisor Peter Bumseng said it was good to be working in New Zealand and sending money to rebuild houses and contribute to the community as a family.

The downside was ensuring those back home had a support system to rebuild their homes.

‘‘We’ve been working through that in some previous cyclones, sending money and supporting the community to rebuild.’’

Cyclones were a fact of life in Vanuatu, he said.

The aftermath of cyclone Lola which hit Vanuatu on October 25, 2023

In March, Cyclones Judy and Kevin hit the islands, two days apart.

Thanks to money earned in New Zealand and skills learned while here, many people now had concrete or block houses which withstood cyclones better than traditionally built structures.

On Ambrym, where Mr Bumseng is from, the medical centre lost its roof at Labour Weekend.

The community had just finished replacing the roof after the March cyclones.

However, the building was strong and the damage significantly easier to repair than replacing a building.

The medical centre serves seven communities, offering healthcare from pharmacy to maternity.

Ni-Van came from all over Vanuatu to work in New Zealand and there were some in Central Otago who had been badly affected by the cyclone, Mr Bumseng said.

The medical centre on the Vanuatu island of Ambrym after cyclone Lola. The roof had just been replaced following two cyclones, days apart, in March

At this time of the year, summer workers were arriving to supplement the winter crews and some had had their flights diverted via Fiji.

The Central Otago community had been very supportive of Vanuatu after previous cyclones, not just financially but also emotionally, and he was grateful for that, Mr Bumseng said.

Right now there were two things the workers needed.

‘‘At the moment, yes we need money, but also emotionally we need that support here, just to help the workers while they are away, [to ensure] that they are mentally fit to be productive in the work they do.’’

Seasonal Solutions had pastoral care workers to look after the Ni-Van men and they had connected with team leaders, such as himself, to find ways to help the workers, Mr Bumseng said.

People were still arriving but during summer there would be more than 500 Ni-Van living in the district.

Co2-NiVanCyclone-3 Houses built by Ni-Vanuatu families with money earned working in New Zealand are sturdier than traditional structures and better withstand cyclones like Lola, which hit the islands on Oct 25.

He had been coming to Cromwell since the 2006-7 season.

A lot of men came year after year, which helped the employers, but they also rotated some places to share the opportunity, Mr Bumseng said.

Earning in Central Otago meant families could build strong, resilient houses that could survive cyclones and that made a huge difference, he said.

It was hard to be away from family for seven months at a time but the pastoral care and the support in the community here helped.

‘‘I’ve been here for a couple of years and I like Central Otago because . . .it’s more like a community-based society — it’s the same back home.’’

Grape Vision owner James Dicey said Ni-Van workers were a godsend to his business, which managed vineyards in Central Otago.

He had been involved in bringing Ni-Van to Central Otago since Mr Bumseng started in 2006, before the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme.

‘‘The guys turn up every year. We have a very high return rate, which means the guys that return are trained, so they are productive from day 1.

Ni-Van workers employed at Grape Horizon, in Cromwell, have been in Central Otago while cyclone Lola devestated the islands at home.

‘‘Analysis of the productivity of Ni-Van workers compared to backpackers showed, on an hourly rate, they were twice as productive . . .That’s even allowing a couple of weeks for the backpacker to be trained up,’’ Mr Dicey said.

Ni-Van workers were very motivated to be in the region. There was no tax in Vanuatu but there was no subsidised healthcare and after 13 years old, school was no longer free.

‘‘The money they earn here makes a significant, magnificent difference to what they are able to achieve.’’

There was a two-way benefit.

‘‘It makes a significant difference to them but it makes a significant difference to us. Their productivity — they’re just lovely people as a broad generalisation — their enthusiasm for work has transformed what we do here in Central Otago.’’

Anyone wanting to help cyclone-hit Vanuatu could give to Red Cross Vanuatu, he said.