By Seru Nasedra and Corinne Ambler
Remote Koro Island, to the east of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, was one of the worst-hit areas during Tropical Cyclone Winston almost a year ago. Most houses in every village were damaged, with only a handful left standing. Many of the islanders are still living in tents or temporary shelters while others have temporarily relocated to the mainland where other family members live.
Fiji Red Cross has spent the last few months working on Koro, which was hit by both winds and sea surge, resulting in the deaths of six people.
A multidisciplinary Red Cross team of WASH, health, shelter and psychosocial trained staff and volunteers have been in Koro helping the islanders get back on their feet.
The WASH team has created safe drinking water for more than 400 people by building a spring protection system in Tuatua village. It has also built communal toilets in Namacu village.
The shelter team has built a demonstration house in Tuatua village, with the second to be built in Namacu village. It has also trained 12 local carpenters in how to build back safer and stronger so their houses are more likely to withstand category five cyclones.
The Fiji Red Cross health teams have been working in seven of the island’s 14 villages, going house to house distributing pamphlets and conducting awareness about diseases such as typhoid, leptospirosis, zika, dengue, chikungunya and flu. The teams have also been screening toddlers for malnutrition and distributed insecticide-treated mosquito nets to households with young children and pregnant women.
Eleni Luvenitoga, 51, from Naqaidamu village said she was very happy to be visited and educated in her home and also enjoyed the fun night of health games and activities which was part of educating and bringing people together.
“It’s really decent of Fiji Red Cross to conduct house to house visits because we feel free to open our hearts and share our thoughts,” she said. “During the health games it captured people’s attention and they learned a lot.”
Timoci Masiwini from Nacamaki village says he learned many new things. “From hand-washing techniques to identifying stress in children, I will change and live a more hygienic lifestyle,” he said.
Fiji Red Cross Health Coordinator Marica Kepa said she received excellent feedback from all seven villages, and her team would be back this year to conduct the same activities in Cawa district.
“We will need to get the message across to the second district so that everyone in Koro can be informed or reminded of the recent health risks and threats that have been noticed and targeted by the Ministry of Health and Fiji Red Cross,” she said.
When Fiji Red Cross first arrived on Koro Island a few months ago, it distributed emergency relief items to all 14 villages. Schools also received books, tables and chairs.
At 60 years old, Anaseini Vakatalai of Tuatua village, lost her home during TC Winston. She says the Red Cross has made a real difference to her family.
“I still remember the day Fiji Red Cross came with relief items. Every family received tarpaulins, cooking pots, plates, cups, clothes, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, candles, lanterns and more,” she said. “I was thankful and my heart was overjoyed. When we received the items we were able to at least start building our lives slowly again.”
Koro islanders were also grateful for the various training Fiji Red Cross provided for the villages, including to build better and safer houses. Twenty-one-year-old Peniasi Waisu of Tuatua village was one of them.
“Ever since I was a kid I have always loved helping people and when Fiji Red Cross came to build the house in Tuatua village, I was chosen to be one of the participants to learn how to build the shelter. I was really eager to learn and help build houses for families here in Tuatua,” he said.
His skills will be well utilised in a village where only seven of the 65 houses are left standing, and many people are still living in tents and makeshift shelters.