The Road to re­build­ing Nayavu­toka

to re­build­ing Nayavu­toka

mailife - - Contents - Story and Pho­tos by SAFIA ARCHER

Cor­ru­gated iron strewn across lush green bush, snapped limbs hang­ing from trees, roads so jagged with pot­holes you can’t hear your­self think as you drive along the long wind­ing road to Nayavu­toka - all tell-tale signs that Trop­i­cal Cy­clone (TC) Win­ston was here. Dev­as­tat­ingly beau­ti­ful, the once pros­per­ous coastal vil­lage was one of the worst hit by the Cat­e­gory 5 cy­clone that rav­aged Fiji on Fe­bru­ary 20 last year. The storm was the most in­tense to make land­fall in the South Pa­cific’s recorded his­tory, with max­i­mum av­er­age wind speeds reach­ing 233kmph. Iso­lated in the north­ern prov­ince of Ra, it was one week be­fore Nayavu­toka was ac­cessed by the out­side world, with bro­ken bridges and im­pass­able roads prevent­ing help from reach­ing those who needed it most. All but two homes were com­pletely de­stroyed, two vil­lagers lost their lives, and pos­ses­sions and liveli­hoods were swept away. Mother-of-three Emele Bi­taki re­mem­bers that night all too well. Her smile faded as she re­called hav­ing din­ner with her fam­ily when TC Win­ston hit. The win­dows in her home blew out, the roof was ripped off, the floors flooded. By the time the cy­clone had rav­aged her vil­lage and passed on, her friends and neigh­bours were hud­dling to­gether with her in the only rooms left stand­ing in her house. She was eight months preg­nant, her chil­dren were freez­ing cold and there was no food or clean wa­ter. She prayed: “God help us.” Seven­teen months later, Bi­taki and her fel­low vil­lagers are still try­ing to re­build their lives. Through sheer re­silience and re­source­ful­ness, they have man­aged to keep their fam­i­lies fed, their chil­dren in schools and their crops re­planted. All while they con­tinue to re­build their homes and farms with the help of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions such as OXFAM and FRIEND. Home­grown ini­tia­tive FRIEND, The Foun­da­tion for Ru­ral

In­te­grated En­ter­prises and De­vel­op­ment, was the first or­gan­i­sa­tion to get to Nayavu­toka. As­so­ciate Di­rec­tor Dr Jone Hawea said they had ini­tially in­tended to pro­vide sup­port to the vil­lages clos­est to their base in Lau­toka, but as they trav­elled fur­ther north, it be­came clear where their help was needed most. “Af­ter Win­ston, as we went from Lau­toka to the Ra prov­ince, the dev­as­ta­tion we saw just wors­ened as we went. When we went to those com­mu­ni­ties we re­alised that was ground zero, that was the worst hit.” Lack of fi­nan­cial back­ing pre­vented FRIEND from as­sist­ing right then and there, but for­tu­nately they were able to mo­bilise funds for tem­po­rary shel­ters with help from the Fi­jian di­as­pora and US Aid. “With that fund­ing we were to do cli­mate change adap­ta­tion ac­tiv­i­ties. We pro­posed sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, food preser­va­tion and food pro­cess­ing as a means to adapt to cli­mate change.”

FRIEND ini­tially thought they would work on the project around Ba and Tavua, but af­ter Win­ston they re­alised the Nayavu­toka area was where it was needed most. “All we have to do now is match what they can do to the ac­tiv­i­ties that we had pro­posed, and bring the as­sis­tance to them.” Train­ing vil­lagers on in­ter­na­tional stan­dards of or­ganic agri­cul­ture is one of the ways FRIEND is help­ing em­power farm­ers to sus­tain­ably grow their busi­nesses. It pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for them to slowly make the tran­si­tion from sub­sis­tence farm­ing to small com­mer­cial sup­pli­ers. “Most of our farm­ers and ru­ral sup­pli­ers don’t op­er­ate on a com­mer­cial ba­sis, they have a sub­sis­tence way of sup­ply­ing – when they have sur­plus they take it to the mar­ket or sell it by the road­side. “But more and more, the de­mand has been put on them to sup­ply the boom­ing tourism in­dus­try. But they are not able to meet mar­ket de­mand so that’s where FRIEND has come in, to try and develop a model. And we have to develop a mar­ket our­selves.” Once the vil­lages are able to sup­ply fresh pro­duce, lo­cal flavours will be fused with tra­di­tional cui­sine and served at FRIEND head­quar­ters’ soon-to-be restau­rant, part of the busi­ness arm they hope will help make them fully sus­tain­able and donor in­de­pen­dent. “Donors come with their agen­das and some­times these agen­das do

not align with the way our com­mu­ni­ties are set up, with our tra­di­tions, with our cul­ture and with our so­cial struc­tures and makeup.” Orig­i­nally set up to al­le­vi­ate poverty in 2001, FRIEND re­alised early on that this was not an iso­lated is­sue. So tack­ling so­cial, eco­nomic and health is­sues in a holis­tic way be­came their ap­proach, trans­form­ing their head­quar­ters into a health and com­mu­nity hub. FRIEND will con­tinue to work with vil­lages like Nayavu­toka un­til they are ready to move for­ward in their own way, at their own pace and on their own terms, em­pow­er­ing their peo­ple and en­rich­ing their al­ready strong Fi­jian spirit. “It shows how much re­silience is in our peo­ple. That smile has never gone away, from TC Win­ston to to­day peo­ple are still smil­ing.”

Ti­moci Nabogi­bogi, the vil­lage head­man of Nayavu­toka, with his two girls, Si­teri, 4, and Les­ley, 1. Nabogi­bogi said the chil­dren still ex­pe­ri­ence stress ev­ery time a strong wind passes through the vil­lage.

A Nayavu­toka vil­lager peels sugar cane from his or­ganic farm.

Nayavu­toka vil­lager shows his catch while out at sea

The fu­ture of Nayavu­toka - a young girl re­turns from an early morn­ing fish­ing trip with her fam­ily.

Pic­tured is one of only two homes left par­tially stand­ing post TC Win­ston, that shel­tered vil­lagers dur­ing the cy­clone.

A lady from Nayavu­toka Vil­lage gets her fish­ing kit in or­der out at sea.

FRIENDS As­so­ciate Di­rec­tor Dr Jone Hawea.

TC Win­ston af­ter­math.

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