By Minnie Edmanley.
The Tourism School in Port Vila not only has plenty of skilled students but also the friendliest staff one could ever come across. Turning up on the school’s doorstep, I immediately felt a sense of welcome from the students who were busy maneuvering their way around the tables, getting ready for the day’s customers.
I was there to talk to the school’s Head of Department, Johnny Garae about the school’s development and over a delicious cappuccino, promptly served by a student waiter, I got a peek into the school’s history and its progress over the years.
The Hospitality Tourism and Leisure Training Center (HTLTC) is part of the Vanuatu Institute of Technology (VIT). The VIT provides vocational education to hundreds of students each year in various subjects such as automotive, carpentry, arts, business, administration and many more.
Originally, the HTLTC was located in the lower grounds of the VIT compound and known as ‘the Tourism School’. It consisted of one classroom and a small, thatched-roof building that housed the Nambanga Restaurant. In 2006, the European Union signed a five-year contract to fund the construction of the new buildings and facilities that host the HTLTC. The contract ended in 2011 and the school is now funded through the VIT and the takings from their own commercial endeavors, such as the Nambanga Restaurant.
Johnny Garae had been the Head of Department at HTLTC since 2007 when the school was upgraded with new buildings, a fully-equipped commercial kitchen, classrooms and a spacious conference room.
During the past seven years, Johnny had seen substantial progress in the school’s capacity to train students to become skilled and talented employees in the tourism industry. “I can say that many of our students have gone into the field for the first time and only three or four years later have taken managerial roles in their respective work places,” he explained.
“In terms of its overall progress, over 600 students have gone through the school over the past five years. Due to the limited facilities, we only have space for around 100 students a year,” he says. “We would love to see an expansion of the school because the demand for tourism studies is quite high at present. However, money is an issue and we would need assistance in such a project so we can only hope,” Johnny says.
Our coffee session ended but Johnny kindly put me in touch with HTLTC Training Development Officer, Lucy Battaglene, who provided me with more information about the school. The school has four classrooms which can be joined to form a larger room for functions, two mock hotel rooms (a twin and a double), a commercial kitchen and a functioning bar and restaurant. These rooms are all used for demonstrations and for the practical assessments of students in the four modules of Culinary Arts and Pastry, Housekeeping Operations, Tourism Studies and Restaurant and Bar Operations.
“Each year HTLTC accepts approximately 100 students to complete their HVC Certificate II within thirteen months. This thirteen-month training includes three months of industry experience, when we send our students out into the Port Vila restaurants and resorts to gain insight into a real work situation. Often many of our students find work during this work experience placement,” she explains.
Students also undergo practical work at the school and those enrolled in housekeeping have the chance to clean and service the two hotels rooms that the school also offers to paying guests.
“Our training restaurant ‘Nambanga’ offers our Restaurant and Culinary students the opportunity to practice their skills three nights a week. Under the supervision of our Chefs, the students prepare a full three-course menu and serve customers,” explains Lucy.“Nambanga Restaurant also caters for functions which provide more experience for our students and a small income for the school.”
The HTLTC kitchen and restaurant is shared with students enrolled in Certificate III and IV at the Australian Pacific Technical College (APTC) and this gives the HTLTC students the opportunity to see the more experienced students in action and learn from them. Students from the APTC also use the Nambanga restaurant for practical experience on Monday when the restaurant is open to the public.
Lucy kindly offered me a lunch at the school so I could experience the skills of the students first-hand. When the much- anticipated Tuesday lunch date arrived I was warmly greeted at the school by Lucy, who led me to the lunch table and called for some of the other staff to join us. Gathered together at two adjoining tables I sat with Lucy, Johnny, maths teacher Julien Signo, chef and tutor Nati Kaibert and administration assistant Meline Rory who were all there to share their knowledge about the school and the Nambanga Restaurant.
The restaurant is nicely decorated, spacious and bright and offers a set three-course menu for a very reasonable price of 1,800vt. The menu changes regularly and there are two choices for each course. Our student waiter was prompt in his service, starting us off with the soup of the day. For the main, we were offered a choice of Roasted Chicken with Rosemary Potatoes or Steak Provençal with Buttered Pasta. As a change from chicken, I opted for the latter, asking for my steak medium rare. The steak was absolutely amazing having been cooked with precision to lock in its richness and flavor. Dessert was the restaurants’ own Banana Split which was truly magnificent.
Over the course of lunch I learned that although the school’s progress had been good, the staff wanted to see more improvements. The school’s current capacity is for a maximum of 100 students a year. Yet applications each year are almost double that figure. “A lot of students apply each year, however we can only accept around 100 because of the space and the facilities,” Meline says. They all agree that more classrooms are needed with extra space so that the school can cater for the demand.
After lunch I had the opportunity of talking to three of the students enrolled in the Culinary Arts and Pastry Certificate II program who had prepared the wonderful meal that we had just shared.
Martha Ialien, Romeo Barako and Melissa Boetuly were all participants on the 2013 Salon Culinaire competition and were all medal winners, with Melissa winning the gold medal in the Junior Chef Main Course category. Twenty year-old Melissa never dreamt of being a chef and did not originally have a passion for cooking. Yet life’s paths took her on this journey and landed her a winning title – which was a great surprise for her mother. “At home I didn’t like cooking because I could not cook well. I had never dreamed that one day I would be able to cook food that would win me a gold medal!” Melissa explains. “After this, I realized that I have a talent for cooking and I am very happy with the experience and the opportunities that this has brought me.” Their experiences at the school have been nothing but wonderful and with the skills and knowledge that they have gained they hope that one day they will be able to give back to their hardworking parents and families.
As I gathered my notebook and bag I looked around and saw how closely knit the students were with each other and with their teachers and the warm way in which they shared a joke and made fun of each other. This was not just a tourism school, but a community of students and teachers who showed me true Vanuatu hospitality and culture.
The Nambanga Restaurant is located at the VIT Campus on the Leopold Sedar Boulevard, Port Vila. Open to the public for lunch every Tuesday and Wednesday and for dinner on Thursdays. Three-course set menu @ 1,800vt pp. For bookings and more information contact the school on 26830.