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Where They Went: Vanuatu

Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniel
Globe Correspondent / March 13, 2005

WHO: Ken Murphy, 44, of Portsmouth, N.H.

WHERE: Republic of Vanuatu

WHEN: Four weeks in August

WHY: Murphy, a partner in a law firm, had a four-week sabbatical coming up. ''I knew I didn't want to play golf and go sit on the beach," he said. ''I wanted something directed away from myself."

WHAT NEXT: A friend recommended him to the nonprofit group Hope Alliance (www.hopealliance.com), which provides medical and humanitarian aid to several developing countries. ''I was told, 'You can go to Peru or Vanuatu. Of course, I had to look up where Vanuatu was," he said of the country, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean west of Fiji. ''It sounded like an adventure. I never did anything like it, but I will again."

GETTING READY: To prepare, he was asked to read up on malaria and mosquitoes to help train others. ''One of the things they [Hope Alliance volunteers] were going to try to do at a school was to try to educate them on how the mosquitoes breed and what they can do to stop the breeding at their school," Murphy said.

NO TURNING BACK: Murphy wasn't nervous until the last leg of his journey, when a small plane took him from the capital of Port Vila to the island of Malakula. Port Vila has tourists, and is where the last ''Survivor" season was filmed. But in Malakula, ''you fly in onto a grass strip. There're no people, no airport. . . . I thought, OK, now I'm in the middle of nowhere." He was taken by boat to the Maskelynes, a smaller island chain, where he met his two fellow volunteers, men from New Zealand and England. ''We stayed upstairs on the floor of this A-frame clinic Hope Alliance had built earlier."

AN ISLAND APART: ''On these outer islands, there're no hotels, no development, no water or electricity. Just these people living like 1,000 years ago," Murphy said.

LIFE LESSONS: The school where they did malaria education had about 100 students, he said, all of whom study English. ''It had some old, old classroom walls, old chairs, with a soccer field in the middle," Murphy said. ''They were building two new classrooms. . . . Men were walking a mile to the beach and filling up these bags with coral and walking back to fill in the base of the buildings. They don't waste things at all."

HOME LIFE: Villagers live in huts with thatched roofs and dirt floors. Water is collected from gutters. ''I'm trying to see if I can get a grant to get them a water tank," Murphy said. Hope Alliance paid for local cooks, and they ate ''little porcupine fish, some noodles once in a while, white rice." Coconut was popular. ''These guys would go right up a huge coconut tree . . . and knock down coconuts." Murphy sampled kava, a mind-altering juice from the kava root. ''Socially it was interesting. I just felt relaxed."

LENDING A HAND: Work included getting a huge container of goods from Port Vila to the island and building a motorized catamaran for an island chief. The usual mode of transportation is a dugout canoe, with wooden paddles, which is how Murphy left the island. ''That paddling is hard to do. It was my own little 'Survivor.' "

To see other reader vacation snapshots, visit www.boston.com/wheretheywent. Send your story suggestions to ddaniel@globe.com.

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