Henry Whitehead’s school trip to Hideaway Island, Vanuatu in 2014 was a life changing experience. Making good friends with the local NiVan people from Mele Village and being moved by their positive attitude and challenging lifestyle, Henry has put his skills as a qualified Stand Up Paddle Board instructor to good use, creating a business that will help these people well into the future. Find out how you can help Henry ensure the success of Stand Up Paddle South Pacific …
Tell us about yourself and your interest in Stand Up Paddle boarding …
Our family moved to the Port Macquarie area, from Melbourne, when I was only two years old.
We lived in Telegraph Point, and my sister and I attended Telegraph Point Public School. My secondary schooling was at St Joseph’s Regional College and then at Newman Secondary Technical College, where I was the School Captain of 2014.
I gained entry to the Australian Army Reserve in 2013 and recently I finalised my training in the Infantry as a Rifleman.
My parents gave my sister and me a Stand Up Paddle lesson with a local instructor, Wayne Dean, for Christmas 2012.
At the end of my lesson, I asked Wayne if he needed any help with the business. Wayne spent time mentoring me, before I gained my Stand Up Paddle qualifications with ASI (Australian Surf Institute) in both enclosed and open water categories. I then went on to manage Wayne’s business whenever he was interstate or overseas.
Over the last Christmas holidays I worked with Damien Treloar of The Last Suppa at South West Rocks, gaining further experience in the management of a Stand Up Paddle business.
When did you first visit Hideaway Island, Vanuatu, and what impressions did you take away from your stay?
In June 2014, I went with a group of students from Newman Senior Technical College to Hideaway Island, as the school does on alternate years for practical application in the Marine Studies course.
During the one week stay on Hideaway Island, I quickly felt a connection with the local NiVan people from the nearby Mele Village, who work at the island resort.
We visited Mele Village as part of our school trip, and I saw how these wonderful people lived. NiVan are happy people, who do not complain. They are self-sufficient and look after each other within their extended family network. Members of the village who work, usually in tourism, support their family with the small amount of money they earn. The minimum wage in Vanuatu is $1.70 per hour, and the cost of living is about the same as in Australia.
The village school has very limited resources. Schooling is only free until Year 8, then parents must pay to send their children away for a higher education.
Mele Village is home to about 4,000 people. The roads which divide up the village are dirt tracks with deep potholes. They allow water to run into people’s homes and are difficult to navigate during rain. Most homes do not have running water or toilets. People wash in the river, which is also used for drinking water …
How did you come up with the idea for Stand Up Paddle South Pacific?
Whilst I was in Vanuatu in June last year, I started to think how I could help make a difference to the lives of my friends and the other villagers. I realised that Stand Up Paddle was not being promoted as it could be, especially if a cultural experience with local NiVan people was included in a new tourism experience. I kept insisting to my parents that this idea could work and they helped me make enquiries, firstly with Vanuatu authorities in Vanuatu and then the Vanuatu High Commission in Canberra.
I planned an end of Year 12 trip last year to Vanuatu with two of my mates, and then I stayed on a further 10 days, living in the village with my NiVan friends.
My parents and sister also travelled to Vanuatu for the final days of my trip. They assisted me in formally evaluating the business opportunities, establishing contact with the tourism association and relevant government agencies, the registration of the business Stand Up Paddle South Pacific, and a business licence to operate in Vanuatu. ASI will also assist me to train and qualify staff, market the business and implement business processes so the business can be an accredited ASI training centre.
How will this business operate?
The business has been registered and a business licence obtained in the names of two NiVan men and my friends, from Mele Village. As a qualified instructor, I will be able to assist the two business owners and other members of the villageto obtain their globally recognised qualification with ASI. Once I have been able to purchase all the necessary equipment to operate the business, my next task will be to ramp up the marketing, especially arrangements with the tens of cruise ships that visit each month.
How will this business benefit the people in Mele Village – especially in light of the recent devastation Vanuatu has faced as a result of Cyclone Pam?
The business model is to pay business operating expenses, and then the profits will be used to benefit the people of Mele Village.
Prior to Cyclone Pam, the urgent needs we have already identified were toilets with a sanitation system, grading of the village’s internal roads, improved resources for the children at the village school. Since Cyclone Pam’s devastation, the more urgent needs are shelter, sanitation, clean water and the re-establishment of their food gardens. We have researched cheap safe drinking water systems designed by the University of SA for a Papua New Guinea project and cheap, simple reed bed sanitation systems like those used in Lord Howe Island.
Who has been instrumental in helping you get the project off the ground?
Without the support and assistance given by my family and friends, I would not have been able to reach the point I have to date. I’d like to thank Greg and Angela from Constable Printing for their assistance with my logo, which has been used on the T-shirts I have been selling.
The First Secretary of the Vanuatu High Commission in Canberra, Mr. William Scanlon, has also been supportive.
How can locals help?
Along with the profit from the great quality T-shirts I am currently selling for $20, I have received generous cash donations from supportive family and friends. I have used these funds to assist with the purchase of 12 Stand Up Paddle boards and paddles. I have used my own money, earned from my Army pay, to pay for the $4,000 shortfall.
I have personally borrowed funds to purchase a second hand 9 seater bus, which is a vital part of the business plan. We need the vehicle to collect the visiting tourists from the large number of cruise ships that visit Port Vila each month and to collect other tourists from their accommodation. The tourists will be driven to the Stand Up Paddle venue on Port Vila Bay.
Freighting costs are very expensive – quotes we have received are around $6,000. A great number of visitors to Port Vila are from Australia. Port Macquarie businesses could benefit from promoting their assistance to this project, as their support would be acknowledged with their logo or business name on a board and the Stand Up Paddle South Pacific Facebook page. Anyone can sponsor a board for $400. More info?
People can call me: 0466 544 355, visit our Facebook page or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This article was from issue 116 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus.