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The wealth generated through your property portfolio has uses beyond personal gain, as a leading property mentor is demonstrating with her campaign to rebuild infrastructure in cyclone-devastated Vanuatu.
After Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated the many islands and villages of Vanuatu last month, property mentor Helen Collier-Kogtevs, of Real Wealth Australia, is calling on fellow investors to donate to the new Rebuild Vanuatu Infrastructure fundraising campaign.
A joint venture between Helen, Robin Culph and Stephanie Neilson, Rebuild Vanuatu Infrastructure is focused on providing funds to rebuild long-term infrastructure such as schools and housing.
For the past 10 years Helen and her husband have been regular holiday-makers in Vanuatu. They have a big network of friends in the island nation, including several sponsor families.
The weekend that Pam hit, the two were monitoring the event via the internet from their Melbourne home.
Helen said watching the looming weather system and forecasts, and the subsequent loss of contact with friends in Vanuatu, was a traumatic experience.
“It was a really difficult weekend for us, because we know a lot of people there and the families that we support and sponsor, knowing what they live in – tin sheds in a village – we just weren’t sure how they were going to survive,” she told Smart Property Investment.
Fortunately, the final death toll from Pam was lower than authorities had expected and everyone in Helen’s network was accounted for as safe and well.
Despite knowing the severity of the cyclone – it was classified as a category five on the Australian scale – nothing would prepare the two for the devastation they witnessed when they reached Vanuatu the following week.
“When we arrived, for four days it was like I was on another planet,” Helen said. “It was seriously a life-changing experience, because I’ve never seen such devastation in my life before. For four days I just kept saying, ‘wow!’ But not in a good way: it was like ‘Oh my god, look at that’.”
Having handed out mosquito nets and tarpaulins, Helen realised more needed to be done to assist the longer-term recovery effort.
“You’ve got all of the aid agencies who are doing a great job feeding everybody, stopping them from getting sick, providing water and medical attention, but now it’s like they’ve got nothing to sleep in.
“Now it’s about rebuilding to try to get back to normality, so we’ve been focusing on the schools – well, focusing on the infrastructure. I don’t want to limit it just to schools.”
One of Rebuilding Vanuatu Infrastructure’s first tasks is to rebuild the school in Mele Maat and Mele, two villages hit particularly hard by water damage associated with the cyclone.
Helen hopes that with children back in schools, parents will be able to focus on other vital tasks such as re-establishing food crops.
“If we can get the schools back up so that the kids can go to school, that gives mum and dad a chance to clean up or for some of the ladies to work on the communal gardens in the village,” Helen said.
“There’s no crops, because when we were out there there’s just no locally produced fresh fruit or vegetables, everything’s imported from Australia and New Zealand. When I was there I bought a lettuce for $11, I spent $4 for one capsicum. Obviously you’ve got to eat and you need your fruit and vegies, but the locals don’t have $11 – I mean, that’s almost a day’s wage: $15 a day is what most of those men get paid.”
The Rebuild Vanuatu Infrastructure campaign has a fundraising target of $88,000. Established this week, it has already raised more than $7,000.
“The fantastic thing about this is the money is going direct, it’s not paying for administration,” Helen said. “We’re all volunteering to make this happen so it goes directly to the projects on the ground.”
Having already contributed thousands of dollars to the recovery effort in the weeks following Cyclone Pam, Helen said that knowing her successful property portfolio is allowing her to help others was an “awesome” feeling.
“Oh look, I feel really blessed that I’m in a position to be able to do this ... I’d hate it if I couldn’t,” she said.
Beyond donating to the campaign, Helen noted that those looking to make a further contribution to the recovery effort should consider making their next holiday in Vanuatu, where jobs are reliant on the tourism industry.
“Rebuilding the economy is really the only way we’re going to get long-term benefits for the people of Vanuatu, you’ve got to get the economy up and going,” she said.
Donations to the Rebuilding Vanuatu Infrastructure campaign can be made at its gofundme webpage.