Northlanders who befriended orchard workers from Vanuatu are now helping improve lives on their remote island by installing rainwater tanks.

Through their Fresh Water Project two Kerikeri families have so far installed 20 rainwater tanks on Lamen, a tiny island of about 400 people in 100 households.

Blueberry grower Peter Anderson said people from Lamen had been coming to Kerikeri for up to six months at a time under a seasonal work scheme running since 2007.

Rick Pickering of Kerikeri showing some of the Lamen Island locals how to connect the water pipes. Photo / Supplied
Rick Pickering of Kerikeri showing some of the Lamen Island locals how to connect the water pipes. Photo / Supplied

He had befriended a number of the workers through a training programme teaching them skills to take home such as building, first aid and computing.

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Last year he travelled to Lamen, along with Rick Pickering and his family, to see how the workers lived and get a better idea of what would be useful to them. While there they helped fulfil the villagers' wish of building a children's performance stage.

"They offered us spectacular hospitality, despite having very little themselves. We felt compelled to help these beautiful people."

The Kerikeri residents noticed the island had no streams so, despite abundant rainfall at certain times of year, they were often short of drinking water. Most of their drinking water came from wells but they were easily contaminated by long-drops when the cyclone season brought flooding, putting them at risk of disease.

Mr Anderson and Mr Pickering, who works on Kerikeri's irrigation system, hit on the idea of installing plastic water tanks so set about fundraising for tanks, pipes and fittings.

In their first year they bought 16 1100-litre tanks in the capital, Port Vila, and barged them about 130km to Lamen. This year they bought four 6000-litre tanks and set them up at a hilltop church with a corrugated iron roof. The water is then gravity-fed to the island's three villages.

Mr Anderson said an important aspect of the project was teaching the villagers to take ownership of the tanks by doing the installation themselves.

Last year they raised $28,402 - mostly donations from Kerikeri churchgoers - and cover their travel and accommodation costs out of their own pockets.

At the beginning they thought they would install one or two tanks. Twenty tanks later they are now eyeing up water needs on the neighbouring, much larger island of Epi.

• Contact Peter Anderson on peterlisaand@xtra.co.nz to find out about contributing to the project. Possibilities range from one-off donations to sponsoring a whole tank or setting up automatic payments.