Aid workers make amazing sacrifices to help vulnerable people. World Humanitarian Day is this week, so we’re celebrating the people who make CARE’s lifesaving work possible – people like Vanuatu’s Marie Toto.


After Cyclone Pam hit the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu in March 2015, CARE’s Marie Toto didn’t know if her family were dead or alive.

The then 24-year-old is from the island of Ambrym, around 160km from the capital, Port Vila, where she lives and works, and phone lines were down.

“There was no connection with family back on the island so I was not sure either they’re alive or they’ve all died, no information at all,” Marie said.

In the midst of uncertainty, Marie did what she does best – she packed a bag and went out to help people.

Marie and a colleague hopped on the first charter flight to one of the worst hit islands, Erromango, where she worked alongside the Australian Defence Force to distribute food and other lifesaving essentials.

This was not a straightforward task. Many roads were impassable and Marie and the other responders could only reach the most remote villages by helicopter.

A few weeks later, Marie was finally able to make that important call back home.

The good news was that everyone was fine. The even better news was that, without even being there in person, Marie’s foresight had helped her family and neighbours survive.

“Whatever information I give to communities [in disaster preparation workshops] it also helped me for my family,” Marie said.

“When Tropical Cyclone Pam started, I told my little brother ‘we don’t know how strong the cyclone is going to be but you need to prepare’.”

On Marie’s advice, the family stockpiled food and firewood. It was lucky they did, because they soon had 30 mouths to feed.

“All our neighbours moved inside our house, their houses were all destroyed and they didn’t have any food. They lived there for two months while they rebuilt their houses.”

“With that information I saved my family and our neighbours’ lives.”

Marie’s job may require her to fly all over the country – more recently she was away for two months after the 2018 Ambae island volcano eruption – but her village roots are still at the core of her humanitarian work.

“You feel for the people. People out there in remote communities, they don’t have much access to information or resources so when you have the opportunity, it’s time for you to give more to them. We give our best.”