"It was very bush, very ad-lib and my apprentices thought *!!#!*. But helping out after the Samoa tsunami was one of the biggest challenges and most rewarding experiences I've ever had."

Three years ago, Registered Master Builder Allister Saville from Arrowtown responded to an out of the blue email from ITM asking for help following the Samoa Tsunami. Here are his recollections.

First impressions

“I was one of seven who went over roughly three weeks after the tsunami. We went to the village of Lepa and the devastation was laid out all around us. There was literally nothing left in the lower part of the village.

The Devastation

“Because there was going to be up to 40 volunteers there every week for the next couple of years, we set up a shower and toilet block straight away and built a rudimentary frame and truss plant. It was all pretty ad-lib…pretty bush…

The Truss Plant

“We slept on mattresses on the floor of the church hall and the village people fed us the whole time and they gave us a hand with the rebuilding, but a lot of them were totally shell shocked. Many had lost their families and they had all lost their homes.

Temporary Accomodation

“We managed to put together a good group of guys – chippies, plumbers, electricians and labourers. But building upwards of 400 fales, it was huge task and I knew we would have to come back.”

Fale Build in Progress

Getting stuck in

“I took two of my apprentices back the following year and some of my subbies came too. When we got there, they hadn’t made as much progress as I’d hoped, which all came down unfortunately to a lack of organisation.

The Return Crew

“But we got stuck in and after two weeks, we had built eight houses.

“We helped with one house in particular; this guy had lost all his children. When we went back this year, we saw him and it was such a tremendous experience.

“We also brought a generator donated by ITM and presented it at the church and it was very emotional.

Presenting the Generator

“What my guys got out of it was amazing. They all left there enriched. We were blown away by the people…they’re just lovely people. They have a tight family network and the way they support each other, a lot of people could learn from that in our society.”

Why did you do it?

“It’s funny, I don’t know, I’m not religious, maybe I was just going through a soft spot but I thought, yes this something I can do, I can use my skills.

“I could donate clothes or money, but this way I could be sure that my contribution would get to the people who needed it, and after being there, I’m glad I made that decision.

“When I asked the apprentices to come for the second visit, they were all pretty keen. But a week into it, they thought *!!#!*, what have you done to us! It was really hot and it was tough work.

“But I saw those boys grow from apprentices to men in that time, and that was tremendously rewarding for me.”

Taking a well earned break