On February 20th, Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji as a Category 5 storm. An estimated 350,000 people were severely or moderately affected by the storm. Entire villages were destroyed, and because of damaged infrastructure and power outages, approximately 250,000 people were in need of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene assistance (WASH). Now over a month later, All Hands Volunteers has launched an emergency latrine program. The current plan is to be building 100 emergency latrines in villages in the region most affected by Winston; however that number could increase if additional funding is allocated, or if we make partnerships with other amazing organizations in the area.
I arrived here on April 1st, after getting the opportunity to celebrate Holi in Nepal with almost every person from both the Melamchi and Nuwakot bases. It was an incredible way to say goodbye to the beautiful amazing country of Nepal, and to all the special people I’d met over the previous few months. It was truly very hard to say goodbye, even though I was very much looking forward to moving on to Fiji, everyone had made such an incredible impression on me, and of course Nepal will always hold such a special place in my heart.
Fiji is an incredible place. Day to day life has been interesting! There is truly so much to do, and there are only 9 of us here. Because of the culture of Fiji, AHV has decided not to accept international volunteers, because there are so many willing and able bodied Fijians that can be volunteering with us instead. It’s truly inspiring to be on the work site with them. It’s nice to see community members directly helping to rebuild their own community.
I’ve only been here for a week, while the rest of the team has been here upwards of a month. We are living in a Hotel in Korovou, and by no means is it a resort, but it’s a nice place to come home to every day. We have 9 people living between 2 rooms, the girls room is bigger since this project is largely staffed by women, (heck yeah girl power!). We have to beg just a little bit to get the water turned on for us to be able to shower, but the food they cook here is amazing, and we have access to the living area where we sometimes play cards or bananagrams, (and occasionally work).
The communities we work in definitely need our assistance. I’ve been going out daily to assess and map the villages, and the most recent village we were in had been completely destroyed. Every single home was destroyed in the cyclone, an although they are very quick to build shelter, the ratio of people sharing toilet and shower facilities is much too high. There are around 600 people in that village and we assessed about 60 toilets, most of those severely damaged in Winston and not in working order yet. Their shelter also wouldn’t be able to withstand another storm. We had prepared this week to be hit by Cyclone Zena, as it was supposed to brush past us after affecting the west area of the island, and although the storm ended up not making direct landfall with our part of the island, many of the community members spent the night in community halls and in shelters that were more sturdy than their own. That is just one village that we’re assessing, the numbers are just as staggering in other villages as well.
We are excited that this weekend there is a prospect of us being able to go swim with dolphins! Last week on our day off it was downpouring, so we couldn’t even really leave the hotel to do anything fun. The rain has been affecting us in other ways too; we actually had a day last week that we couldn’t get to a few of our villages because the bridge was submerged in water. We still work in the rain of course, but having to change plans in that quick of notice can often take a negative toll on the productivity of the day. It also means that we’re doing community assessments in the rain, so your notebook and papers get soaked, regardless if someone is holding an umbrella up over all of it.
Working in the field is interesting in a few ways! One thing I have to get used to is wearing a skirt. In the villages, women wear skirts. Before I got here we hadn’t been doing so, and when we asked one of the villages if there was a way for us to make our presence easier on them, it was suggested that the women wear long skirts. So now we do! It’s challenging when we are walking around hiking doing assessments, and I’m surely not starting any new fashion trends since skirts and work boots don’t pair nicely together, but it works and it makes them happy so we oblige. The other tricky thing is the local’s aversion to allowing women to work. I had a local Fijian man take a saw out of my hand while I was already sawing into a piece of wood. It was an interesting experience, because even though I assured him it was okay, and that I wanted to do it, somehow the saw ended up in his hands and I ended up awkwardly standing by. It was the first time that anything like that had really happened to me, and while I know it wasn’t done in an offensive way or negatively natured, it still was hard to get over it, my pride definitely took a hit.
It’s been a jam-packed week of working and running around, and I have enjoyed every minute of it thus far. I got to attend a WASH Cluster meeting yesterday with the Project Director, and I feel as though by me being on project I am helpful and needed. It’s nice after being in Nepal with the Fellowship, and even the 3 months in Nepal prior to the fellowship being on base with 60 or so people for months on end to now be in a place where it’s just the 6 ladies and 3 men, all of us staff and all of us really dedicated to this work. The environment here is really intimate, we’re all really close and getting closer every day. It’s nice to be around people who just get you. That’s one of my favorite things about All Hands Projects, is that no matter which base you walk onto, in whichever country it is, there will always be new members of your family waiting to take you in. This new home is pretty great, and I’m excited to be here for the next few months!
To help maximize our efforts in Fiji, please visit here. The Fijian people are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve met, and they truly deserve everything we can give them.
*All of the noticeably better quality photos are credit to Georgie at www.following-clover.com . She’s an amazing volunteer who is dedicated to capturing photographs whilst working alongside community based charities.