The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Picking up the pieces: recovery in Fiji

From remote hillside settlements where families continue to huddle together in a single house, to a village having to manage the devastation in isolation because of a disease quarantine, the effects of Cyclone Winston are still fresh for many in Fiji.

Travelling around Viti Levu with our partners from the Archdiocese of Suva’s Commission for Justice and Development (CJD), we were able to see the full extent of the impact on people’s lives and grasp the enormity of the situation. Young and old, men and women have been traumatised by this disaster and are still in need.

Our task during this particular journey was to listen to their stories and experiences, and by doing so provide some outlet for them to share with others what they’re been through. We also sit alongside them in houses, schools, evacuation centres and under broken eaves in roofless houses to assure them that we are there to help.

Standing amongst what remains of belongings and exposed to the elements, the tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen sets and other emergency items being supplied by Caritas and distributed by the CJD are obviously needed for people to start rebuilding their lives. What’s needed to help deal with the emotional and mental impact is sometimes less obvious.

Psychosocial support (counselling) is an important way the CJD and Caritas are helping those affected by Cyclone Winston to overcome the trauma, and will no doubt be useful for many.

Take the example of Paulina, a 10-year-old girl sheltering with her family in Navunibitu Catholic Primary School (Ra Province) where she is a student. Speaking with a soft voice about the category five storm, a look of tired pain beyond her years clouds her youthful face. Head in hands, her father sits nearby reliving it with her and considering the loss of their house and possessions.

When asked how she might be able to forget about the experience, Paulina is at a loss for words before deciding that being able to draw, write and talk about what happened would be best. Picking up a pencil to write a couple of lines, she flashes a rare smile that is infectious and illustrates her words perfectly. 

That same look of resignation and loss is seen on the faces of many people we talked to, as is the slight easing of pain as they finish telling their stories. The act of sharing their experience is a small step in the process, but speaks volumes about the importance of psychosocial support in rebuilding lives and livelihoods around Fiji.

This aspect of the emergency response and recovery is being delivered in combination with distributing emergency supplies and developing a cyclone-resilient demonstration house to help train local builders in rebuilding safer houses.

We are accepting donations to provide communities with crucial supplies and to help them recover following this major emergency, as well as support our ongoing justice and development work in Fiji.

*If donating online, select Fiji Fund

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust