Mary and Jessel Niavia, long-time employees of Friendly Bungalows, Tanna have officially retired. The Australian owners of Friendly Bungalows together with an entourage of delegates, chiefs, senior community representatives and the Department of Tourism, were there this week in Tanna to mark the historic day.
Search the internet and references to the couple, and in particular Mary, are plentiful. Marys’ warmth, genuine hospitality and welcome hug stay in people’s hearts forever. Mary and Jessel started working at Friendly Bungalows over 17 years ago at a time when tourism on Tanna, and in particular the remote east coast, was almost unheard of or at best restricted to the more hardy of adventure travellers keen to see the famous Mt Yasur volcano. It was considered a bold move in the late 1990’s for Jessel's family and others to survey this spectacular piece of coastal land and invite foreign investment into a previously closed and isolated community area.
In her speech this week, Mary provided a narrative of her life at Friendly Bungalows and described the first few years as very tough, with no transport and little infrastructure, a vast comparison to the property and support amongst community evident today.
“We are proud of the development of the Friendly Bungalows as we can see it today” said Mary in her narrative, adding that together with Jessel they wanted to ensure “Friendly Bungalows becomes a model for every bungalows at Whitesands today!”
Mary descried the changes in Friendly Bungalows and the rise of tourism in the area as having an enormous positive impact on her community, describing employment for individuals and also the assistance to community groups and organisations including schools, church groups, and local gardeners who supply produce for the business. In particular, the three local villages within walking distance to Friendly Bungalows, Lounasunan, Lono and Lopali have all recently started to offer custom activities for tourists and guests are welcome to experience local custom dancing, cooking and weaving demonstrations and workshops, and also listen to the authentic John Frum movement musical activities every evening, The small amount of money earned from guests visiting these villages assists greatly with day to day life and the community are strongly motivated to share their local customs and culture and keep their history alive for future generations.
As Mary so aptly concluded in her farewell speech on Tuesday, “Long live Friendly Bungalows”. Mary and Jessel have retired and intend to spend their time in the nearly by Lono village and will welcome all visitors who wish to come and talk and listen to their stories for as long as Mt Yasur continues to rumble…a very long time to come!
Owners of Friendly Bungalows, Joanne Wade and Peter Rotteveel are strong supporters of sustainable tourism and have been instrumental in developing tourism at a grass roots level in the area. Joanne and Peter wish Mary and Jessel a very fond farewell, and a warm welcome to new local Managers, Eleni and Nakat Kuckrey. “It has been our privilege to know and love Mary and Jessel as Managers of our bungalows, and we will always stay in touch. We also look forward to the next chapter for Friendly Bungalows, and are very happy and excited to welcome Eleni and Nakat to our team. As Mary said, long live Friendly Bungalows” concluded Joanne.
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