Monday 4 July 2016

Giving back

Monday, July 4th 2016.

As I write this I am on a plane bound for Canada, and the kids and Mark on still onboard Amelie. The way I see it, after spending 27 months together, Mark and kids deserve a break from my cooking!!! Oh, and also this gives me a chance to go and spend some time with my mom, my siblings and lovely nephew and nieces. 

As you’ve read from Meg’s blogs, we have been busy in Fiji for the last month and a half. 

It was Mark’s idea to join Sea Mercy after Cyclone Winston and it was a GOOD idea! When we arrived in Vanua Balavu in the Northern Lau group,at the end of May it didn’t take long for us to see from the ravaged landscape how hard they had been hit. Gone where the rolling green hills lush with coconut trees we’d left behind last September... The hill tops that greeted our return were dry and brown with matchstick-like tree stems standing naked without their palms. 

The usually lush vegetation has been decimated

No tires?  No Problem !
Cleaning the Day's Catch !

The Ladies insist that we have some yummy watermelon (J-P from MV  Domino and Meg)

The make-shift Church

The villages we walked through were littered with debris, most roofs were gone and what remained of buildings lay lopsided under crumbling foundations. In some of the hardest hit villages, all we found were Unicef tents. No houses had survived. The churches; the heart and soul of the people, gone. The schools, gone. In one of the villages, MuaMua, tarps had been used to create makeshift shelter so that they could have a place of worship. 

Kids crowding around Meghan and her camera…they all want to see their photo !

Thomas giving the ladies a lift  to the village garden

The brackish water well in Avea

Greetings when we arrive. Photo by Tessa Irvin

Photo by Tessa Irvin

The main source of income in these remote islands is Copra (Coconut), and there were none left! We were told it would take up to 5 years before the trees would recover and start  producing as they once had. Not only had their homes been shattered but their very livelihood had been crushed as well. 

Photo by Tessa Irvin

 Immediately after the CATEGORY 5 Cyclone hit in February the Army (Fijian, Tongan and New Zealand), together with Unicef and other non Profits organization were the first responders in the Lau group. They gave the people food, water and shelter (Tents). But by the time we arrived it had been over 3 months, and our role was to provide follow up help. In our first week “Needs Assessments” were done. The crew from the 9 Sea Mercy boats were divided up into teams and each went to visit with village heads and then report back to the group as to what the needs of each villages were. Orders were then made and materials were shipped over to us by ferry. (Goods were also carried by us on our boats from New Zealand) 

Travelling in Style !  (With 2 goats and 2 pigs!)

Once we had delivered the goods to each village, we were able to tackle some “on the spot” projects, like boat repairs, debris removal (chainsaw work), fence building, and the vital water supply replenishment. While the men tackled the heavy work, the ladies started a gardening education program which included creating natural pesticide against caterpillars (which had been decimating the crops), composting and helping with general gardening practices.

It has been very rewarding to work together with the Fijians to help rebuild their lives. We were greeted with open arms and gratitude. On more than one occasion we were invited to feasts, Kava ceremonies and church celebrations.For me the most rewarding as always, was the time spent with the children. Nothing quite compares to the smiles and enthusiasm of the children of Fiji. They are a real joy to be around. Meg and I broke open the puppet bag and did quite a few shows for them. What a blast we had !  At first, I was not sure if this was the best use of our time, but seeing the happiness on the children’s face took away any doubt. 

These are the boats (2) that Mark, Norm, Matt and Chris built.


School Rules ! (My Favourite is Number 7!  Oh, and the weather: COLD !)

When we first arrived, we visited a school, and a little girl of 5 or 6 spontaneously started to cry loudly when she saw us arrive. We were told by the headmaster that children sometimes associate “white people” with disasters such as cyclones. Because that is when the “white people” all arrive: right after such events! This little girl had been traumatized and upon seeing us all arrive, she was reminded of the terrible day of the storm...or perhaps she’d feared the worse: another cyclone !

For many of the people of the Lau group, Cyclone Winston, the largest cyclone ever experienced in the South Pacific, was a surprise. They had not been prepared, some of the villages had no idea it was even coming, and the residual effect is still obvious, especially in the children, some still react in fear when ever there is a sudden gust of wind, or fast changing weather. Some of the villages had do deal with fatalities, caused mainly by the flying corrugated iron coming off the roofs  in the 300 ++ km winds ! 
Within the month we spent amongst the people, there were instances were we saw dramatic changes in the mood of a village. When we first arrived, some of the people, who must have been still in shock, seemed apathetic, and numb. By the time we left, it was as if they had  been energized by our efforts and with a renewed boost of energy, they were enthusiastically working on the gardens and rebuilding their community hall. I think that they finally realized that they had not been the forgotten victims. That is one of the great advantages of Sea Mercy: We come with our homes, (there are no hotels, no tourist houses, and no visitors accommodation of any kind in the Lau group), and our own provisions which means that we can stay for extended periods of time and provide consistent help and follow up on progress. 

Getting to know the rest of the Sea Mercy crew was a fantastic experience for us. Our group hailed from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada and with so many different skills. We worked side by side with doctors, engineers and other health professionals. 

I think that Mark enjoyed the challenge and satisfaction of not only fixing the long boats for one village, but also building a brand new rowboat for another village which had lost all of its boats (and ability to go fishing) in the cyclone. Meghan enjoyed helping out with the gardening and spending time with the kids. MC felt good about leaving each school with a variety of digital resources she had put together and Matthew simply enjoyed the love and attention that he received by the villagers, he blossomed in the freedom of the universal acceptance he felt there. 

Speaking of Matthew, a funny thing happened a few weeks ago:
Matthew hitches a ride in Fiji: It all happened on the Island of Vanua Balavu the largest of the Islands of the Lau group. The kids and I were walking along the sandy road with Jen, Mark and Conrad (SV Perry). Matthew was, as usual, walking a good 150-200 feet in fron of us. A white pick up truck came up from behind and stopped to ask if we wanted a ride, as often happens here.  We said no thanks as we were out to strech our legs, but then he slowed down a little further up the road to ask Matthew the same thing. imagine our surprise when Matthew wordlessly jumped in the back and the driver drove off!!!  before we could do or say anything. I guess Matthew wanted a ride!  In another 10 minutes another car came by and I flagged it down, asking for a ride to the next village (Lomo Lomo). When I got dropped off there was no sign of Matthew, but after I enquired with a couple of villagers if they’d seen a white pick up truck they told me that he had gone further to the next village, so I started walking in that direction wondering what would happen if the driver stopped and asked Matthew if this was were he wanted off...Matthew might of just jumped out and start to wonder around the village. Mercifully, I never felt any real panic, as I knew that he was in no danger what so ever the good people of Vanua Balavu had all been exceptionally kind and caring towards Matthew everywhere we had been. I just thought that there would of been a bit of confusion follwed by a funny story. Eventually, after a good 20 minutes. I spotted the white pick up truck driving back in my direction .I waved my arms and the driver stopped. I mumbled a quick explanation as to what had happened and he nodded emphatically...I think he had figured it out as well at some point during the 30 minutes Matthew had been with him. I never did get anything further information from him, just a sightly embarrased smile.The same smile which I had on my face, no doubt ! Ah Matthew !  You are always full of surprises and the source of most of my good stories !  

Our time with Sea Mercy is done for now and its been a privilege to have worked with such an organization. The were plenty of days where the team had hard days of work, but that never stopped the Sea Mercy crew from getting together on one of the boats in the evenings to make plans for the next days and, perhaps just as important, to share the stories of the unique experiences of the day.  

I would like to leave you with a couple of stories written by Catherine Kimber, from Australia onboard S/V The Southern Cross .The first is an unfortunate incident of a young father killed by a wild boar and the second mentions Mark and Matt (SV Perry) working as carpenters for a day. I thought it would be an interesting read, for those of you who are interested. But that's all from me, so I shall sign off for now.With loads of love, 4Ms Afloat

 Vanua Balavu Island as seen on the approach to Loma Loma

Cicia Island, Fiji: Children in Need
Written by Catherine Kimber. SVThe Southern Cross and reprinted with her permission

‘On this island, there are seventeen children under the age of five, who suffer from malnutrition,’ said Lepani, the nurse practitioner on Cicia Island.  My husband, Peter, and I on board our boat The Southern Cross were visiting this remote island in the Northern Lau Group of Fiji.  We were collecting information regarding the impact of Cyclone Winston, under the umbrella of Sea Mercy, along with the crew of two other vessels. Cicia Island is home to 1,100 people.  Food crops, both above and below ground, as well as their cash crop copra were destroyed.  There is no money coming in without copra to sell and there is not enough food to last them until their newly planted crops start producing.  

‘One of the babies who is severely malnourished has a particularly sad story,’ continued Lepani.  ‘The baby’s father was killed last week by a wild boar when he was out hunting for food for his family.’

The following day, Peter and I, along with Matt from the sailing vessel Perry, visited two other villages.  We were transported by truck along the island’s perimeter track.  Our driver Singa showed us photographs of the wild boar’s victim.  
‘You can see he lost a lot of blood.  The wild pig’s tusk got him here,’ he said indicating his groin and femoral artery.  ‘We heard that this man was late home, so we went out searching for him.  But it was too dark, so we had to wait till the next morning.’
‘That’s where we found him,’ said Singa pointing across the valley.  ‘When men go out hunting they take their dogs with them.  That’s how we able to find him.  His dog was still standing guard.’
‘Did he have a gun?’ asked Peter.
‘No, only a knife.’
‘How old was he?’ I asked.
‘Only 28,’ said Singa shaking his head. ‘Only 28 and two young children.’

Before we reached the village of Lomoji, Singa stopped the car.  ‘This is where the young man was buried five days ago.’  Singa pointed to a highly decorated grave which sat nestled beneath cyclone ravaged pines. 

Through the kindness and generosity of strangers Sea Mercy is assisting the people of Fiji, including the community in which this dead man’s two little children live.  People living on islands ravaged by Cyclone Winston need help to obtain proper nutrition until they can recover from this disaster.

The grave of the 28-year-old victim of a wild boar attack

John searches for Jesus and finds some Cruising Carpenters
Written by Catherine Kimber, SV The Southern Cross and reprinted with her permission. 

‘Today I didn’t go to church because I believed I would meet Jesus here in the village,’ said John, the head teacher of Tarakua, as he shook my hand.  Tarakua, home to 175 people, is the capital village on a remote island called Cicia (pronounced Thithia) in the Exploring Islands in Fiji.  My husband, Peter, and I along with two other families were in Tarakua on Sunday 29 May 2016 as part of Sea Mercy’s mission to bring aid to the people of Fiji following the devastation of Cyclone Winston.  Our Australian flagged catamaran, The Southern Cross, bobbed on its anchor alongside fellow Sea Mercy volunteer vessels Perry from the USA and Amelie IV from Canada.

Tarakua Village School provides education for 40 children aged from three to 13 years of age.  There are five teachers, including one teacher for the kindergarten.  John showed our small group of four adults and two children, around his school.  
Tarakua school, damaged classroom

In the middle of a row of three classrooms all the school desks were pushed to one side.  The other side of the 60 metre square room was unsafe and unusable.  Planks of timber were loose, some were missing.
‘The piers supporting the joists appear to have collapsed,’ said Peter.
While Peter brainstormed ways of fixing the floor with fellow boaties Mark and Matt, I thought about my own son and daughter and how grateful I am that they were able to attend schools in a country that could afford basic upkeep on school buildings.

John pointed to the desks and chairs.  ‘The students struggle to do their school work at these broken desks.’
‘The desks appear to be circa 1960,’ remarked Peter.
‘The chairs aren’t designed to go with these desks.  It must be hard for the children to focus on their work while they are so uncomfortable,’ I said.

With pride John showed us the post-Winston constructed outdoor classroom built with local materials and local labour.  Beneath the thatched roof with open sided walls it was cool, with views of blue, blue water partly obscured by two large blackboards.  John said, ‘Once our students reach the age of 14 they continue their education at the largest village on this island, Mabula.  Our island has the highest grades for students across Fiji.  Children attending this school are future doctors and Ministers.’

‘And lastly, this is the school’s amenities,’ said John pointing to a concrete block building with wide cracks which reached from ground to ceiling.

‘When the concrete floor is wet it is slippery.  It is particularly dangerous in the dark, for our high school students who use the school buildings at night for their study.’
‘Don’t go in.  It is too dangerous,’ I was told.  Too dangerous for me to enter.  Nonetheless, the village’s budding scholars have to use these facilities on a daily basis.

Mark and Matt fixing the desks for Tarakua school, Cicia
The following afternoon Mark, Matt and their young families returned to the village school with a bag of nails and screws, epoxy glue, screwdrivers and a Sea Mercy funded hammer.  Eight desks were repaired in the shade of a tree while the school’s youngsters played cricket on their large well-kept ground.  When the desks had been mended and John, the head teacher, had finished coaching cricket practice, John was presented with the hammer, along with a couple of Sea Mercy LuminAID pocket sized solar lights.  

Perhaps there was some truth in John’s statement about meeting Jesus in the village that Sunday.  Jesus was a carpenter.

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