Food security, water storage and migration are among the issues Puna Vano will focus on as the new Executive Officer of Penrhyn.
Puna Vano grew up watching his father at work.
The late John Vano was Penrhyn’s first Secretary (Executive Officer) in the
Almost three decades later, Puna is following
in his father’s footstep after taking up the island’s Executive Officer role.
One of Puna’s fondest memories growing up was
following his dad around while the latter carried out his responsibility as the
Secretary of Penrhyn island.
Vano, who considers himself “a bit of a fruit
salad” due to his maternal and paternal links to Penrhyn, Rakahanga and
Manihiki and Aitutaki, grew up on Rakahanga where he stayed for six years from
1984 to 1990. He went to school there with his four siblings.
In 1990, the Vano family moved to Rarotonga
before his father took up the top job on Penrhyn in 1994.
“He was the first Island Secretary then (now
called Executive Officer), he was there for three terms. That’s when they were
trialling the devolution – giving the power to the local/island government to
run their own affairs.”
In 1995, Puna joined his dad and brother going
back and forth for about a year and a half.
He always had plans to return to Penrhyn and
continue the work of his father.
“Only people from the north would want to go
back to the north and for me it has always been part of my plan.”
Puna says when his father was alive and based
on the island, he asked his wife, who is a school teacher, to move to Penrhyn.
But other commitments kept them in Rarotonga.
Last year they decided it was time to go to
His appointment as the new Executive Officer
of Island Government played a big part in that decision.
Puna Vano has got a list of things that he
wants to do for the people on the northern group island.
But first he has to present those ideas to the
“I have done plans and details but Island
Council will have to see it first.”
With the population of Penrhyn down to 250
(according to the last census), Vano says looking after the welfare of the
people is the key priority.
He is basically looking at improving on three
areas – food security, water storage and migration.
“A priority is food security. When it comes to
seafood, we don’t have problem we have abundance of this. But the problem is
food on the land and because of that we are dependent on having rice. The only
fruit tree is Kuru/ breadfruit.”
He will be working closely with Ministry of
Agriculture to improve the production of land-based crops.
Another key issue facing the island is water
shortage especially during the current dry spell.
Vano says rain data shows the island gets the
lowest amount of rainfall compared to other outer islands.
However recent rain has helped the island
store water in the galleries recently installed by Infrastructure Cook Islands.
“But we don’t want to take and take from
there. It will take years to replace it if it finishes, so we have to be careful,
we will only use it for emergency.
“And so, we will work on our water storage,
making sure any rain we get, collect it and store it. It is a long-term plan
but we want to at least store enough water for up to a year.”
Vano says there have been a lot said about
educating people in the Pa Enua on how to conserve water, especially after a
recent dry spell which saw government sending water to Penrhyn.
However, he says those making these calls have
no experience living on the island “because people in the Pa Enua are naturally
talented in preserving and conserving”.
“They know how to read or look at nature and
tell when there is a cyclone or bad weather coming. For example, when we see
the crabs crawling up the coconut trees, we know there will be rough seas in
two to three days’ time or when we see dolphins swimming close to the reef,
going in a group we know there will be rough sea. They never go wrong. Even the
signs of the fruits being abundant indicates something.”
Another major issue Puna Vano hopes to tackle
is the migration of people from Penrhyn.
Vano says many have left the island seeing the
lifestyle in overseas and employment opportunities but he hopes to bridge the
gap and encourage people to tap into their natural resources to improve their
Coming from a business background, Vano says
there are a lot of natural resources surrounding the islands that can support
the livelihood of the islanders.
“I am really looking forward to going. I have
always wanted to take my children and raise them in the outer islands, learning
the island way.”
Vano will be travelling to Penrhyn with his
wife and four children including a daughter turning 17, and three young boys
aged 15, 9, 7.
His eldest daughter, who currently works for
Te Mato Vai, will be in Rarotonga looking after their family upholstery
Vano says he will carry his father’s advice
with him when he starts his new role: “When you are managing something, don’t
sit in your office and expect people to achieve the work you want especially
when you have timeframes. You get up and be out there and be with them – and
you will achieve these results.”