Every community FRIEND works with in the western division were affected by TC Winston in one way or the other. FRIEND had a mammoth task ahead to respond to these communities. We moved swiftly to assess the effects of Tropical Cyclone Winston on the communities we work with. When we started in Lautoka things looked bad, but when we visited Ba and then Tavua it got worse. Rakiraki stood the worst affected with reportedly more than 5000 homes totally destroyed.
It was clear we had to start our relief work where people were in most despair; often hundreds of people struggling to find shelter in one or two partly destroyed homes standing in their villages. Nakorotubu and Nalawa districts were worst hit.
Sashi Kiran, our CEO arrived into Fiji from Mongolia within two days of Cyclone where she was attending executive meeting of ASPBAE and Dr Jone Hawea, associate director had just arrived from India a day before the cyclone. Without waiting to recover from jetlag both visited communities with basic relief items like food, water, clothing and consulted the communities on their needs. The need was immense. It was heart warming to note that citizens of Fiji gave generously, within days of cyclone food rations, clothes and other needs were fulfilled by citizens from Suva and Nadi. The one need that everyone called for was urgent need for shelter.
The management consulted the board and quick decisions were made. Fiji Community Development Program through AUSAID provided funds for temporary shelter materials. Staff, board, friends of FRIEND from Fiji and abroad providing cash swiftly. Every dollar donated has been used for purchase of roofing iron and nails. FRIEND has been covering all costs of delivery and staff.
“The need is so much that we need every cent of donation coming in to go towards building materials”, said Sashi.
Building materials were being provided to worst hit communities, that is communities which had lost all or almost all their homes and were in urgent need for shelter. Some of these communities did not even have community hall or church standing leaving families to rebuild from leaking rubble. Serving these communities meant that field staff and management traveled 3 hours each way every day for at least first 3 weeks to assess and organise communities.
FRIEND communities affected from Tavua to Lautoka also had been calling for assistance. FRIEND mobilised programs team to visit and listen to these communities. Donated Food, clothing, diapers and backyard seeds were distributed while we assessed these communities. Labasa team quickly checked on all their communities and how they fared with cyclone.
FRIEND SMILE Team also mobilised itself rapidly first into FRIEND communities then worst hit Ra communities. Other then providing primary care the objective was also to ensure that diabetics and those suffering from hypertension had access to their medications. SMILE reported that increasing number of patients have been coming with high blood pressure. Stress levels in the communities have been very high due to their losses. There are also reports of deaths from heart attacks and strokes as some lost their homes.
Road to recovery is a long haul for the communities and FRIEND team has been trying to ensure support all the way. Our office also sustained minor damages so did some staff homes and office and staff did not have access to electricity for weeks… however these seem so minor when we visit Ra communities struggling without having a basic place to live in, families who have lost all and sit in darkness every evening, having lit fires to smoke the mosquitoes away, wondering how to protect their families and small children from the elements.