Winston A Blessing In Disguise

THERE are not many positive sides to the story of being hit by a Category 5 Tropical Cyclone.

Indeed taking any positives from a cyclone that causes $US1.46 billion ($F2.97b), claims 44 lives and either fully destroyed or damaged 40,000 homes, is incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible.

But that is what the people of Vanuabalavu in the Lau Group are doing.

Vanuabalavu was one of the worst hit by Severe TC Winston with many left homeless and without adequate water or food.

Lives were lost, homes and plantations were destroyed as Severe TC Winston battered the island on February 20.

In the 15 months since then rebuilding work progressed on the island, and when The Fiji Times visited the island in the last fortnight, villagers and civil servants alike agreed that Severe TC Winston may have been a blessing in disguise.

The New Zealand Government has provided $10 million in aid assistance to rebuild 35 public service buildings on the island and have contracted local company Pacific Building Solutions to carry out construction works.

The buildings are being rebuilt stronger and better and all work is expected to be completed by mid-November.

And it is this rebuilding work that is a leading reason villagers on Vanuabalavu say there are positives to be taken from Severe TC Winston.

Mavana Village headman Sepesa Koto said much of the rebuilding and restoration work going on in the village would not have been possible if destruction caused by Winston had not been so widespread.

He explained that if the villagers were to fund the building improvements themselves, it would take them years to raise the money.

But they are getting these improvements in a fraction of that time.

And the sentiment is the same in villages like Daliconi, Cikobia and Lomaloma where more schools and teachers quarters are being re-built by the New Zealand Government and Pacific Building Solutions.

Rebuilding on Cikobia Island is one of the more challenging rebuilding projects being undertaken by Pacific Building Solutions.

Materials must be carted in by barge and because the island does not have a wharf or jetty, the materials must either be dropped in the sea or unloaded on to a small pontoon before being pushed to the shore by waves.

Once on the shore, the materials including house posts, sacks of cement, and pre-fabricated parts of the buildings are carried by PBS builders 50 metres up a hill to the site of construction.

There is no piped water on the island and water for cement mixes must be sourced by the gallon from fresh water pools 2km away from the building sites. These pools sit on the beach and are only accessible at low tide.

Tui Cikobia Solomone Tayaga Mua said he was thankful that the school and teachers quarters on the island would be rebuilt to better standards, something that would not have been possible without Severe TC Winston and New Zealand aid.

And while the Government Help for Homes initiative has faced its issues, Mualevu villager Josateki Pena says they have benefited immensely from it.

Mr Pena, said the villagers had taken the $7000 option for rebuilding assistance and many were now proud owners of decent homes thanks to it.

But buildings are not the only positive that has come out of Severe TC Winston.

Mavana Village headman Sepesa Koto said they had seen a change in the abundance of fish and the fertility of soil following the cyclone.

“Io dua ga na ka na kena bulabula, veisau saraga na qele mai na veiyabaki sa oti, dua na oti ni cagi qo vaka e bulabula sara na qele, va bulabula taka na qele, na waitui.”

He said the only issue was securing markets for fish sales. Where previously they would sell fish within the village, issues with money meant they had to look elsewhere.

Teachers on the island said they also saw a change in the attitude of students with many of them becoming mentally resilient after living through the experience of Severe TC Winston.

Mavana District School teacher Sarita Kumar said her students initially were extremely traumatised following Severe TC Winston, running indoors whenever there were strong wind and rain.

“As we have a bit of rain — heavy rain, we can see them they will be scared they will all just get together and say ma’am Winston.

“And then we have to get them all together and say no, no it is just some heavy rain and talk to them, but then we can’t take lessons because they are scared and we have to go through certain exercises and strategies to calm them down.

“They are much more stronger now because they are younger and have lived through Winston and now they have that hope that nothing can happen if we are prepared.

“And that’s what we are trying to teach them to be brave so that we can go through it and be brave and know that we are braver than Winston so all these strategies that we got from here there in our counselling sessions we try to use that. We try to talk to our friends, after Winston we always used to sit in groups all these ladies we used to talk about it.”

Adi Maopa Secondary School principal Mishra Singh shared the same sentiments saying that students at the school in Lomaloma Village had more resilient mind-sets after Winston, and the newly rebuilt and improved classrooms had also contributed to this.

“I think that they have more confidence with facing difficult situations because of all they have come through,” he said.

The Fiji Time, September 18, 2017

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