• Save the Children’s Tim Muir revisits Fiji, a year after the fury unleashed by Cyclone Winston.

    It’s been 12 months since Cyclone Winston battered some of Fiji’s most vulnerable communities, and the country has in no way forgotten. With a huge demand for building materials and tradespeople across most of the country, many villages are still in the early phases of rebuilding.

    This is my second time in Fiji since last year’s tragedy. In September 2016 I travelled to some of the country’s most remote and hardest-hit communities where I witnessed how Save the Children had quickly intervened to protect lives and help families cope.

    I was proud to discover that we have helped a whopping 19,725 children after the cyclone. With overwhelming support from the international community, Save the Children was able to:

    • provide tents as a temporary solution to classrooms destroyed in the storm;
    • deliver classroom materials, furniture for teachers and carers, and schools supplies for students;
    • build or repair water facilities; install hand washing stations;
    • deliver new rain-harvesting tanks; give children, teachers and community leaders hygiene training that was in turn passed down to peers;
    • inject income into fragile communities and help quickly clean up villages with cash-for-work programs, and;
    • provide psychosocial first aid training to help teachers and parents identify and support children struggling with trauma.

    The warm reception I received at every community or school I visited was testament to Save the Children’s work after Winston. As I sat with teachers, students and community members, we’d discuss how Save the Children has supported families and given them hope for the future.

    At the Burei Wai District School on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, I spoke with Assistant Head Teacher, Alipate Rokobiau. I enjoyed talking to him very much, as he explained the difficulties children faced after the cyclone, and how we had helped them overcome their fears.

    “The first day after the cyclone they came back, I told them in the classroom, ‘Today we won’t do any studies. I just want you to share your stories,’” Alipate told me. “It was very emotional, some of them were telling their stories, but they weren’t able to complete their stories – half way they broke down in tears. I had to console and comfort them. They were emotionally stressed.”

    “After Winston, they’d be sitting in the classroom and they were shocked – always shocked and frightened when they would hear loud bangs.” Alipate Rokobiau, Assistant Head Teacher, Burei Wai District School, Viti Levu.

    “We were using tarpaulin,” he went on, “Some times in the wind it would make a small noise – and the children would react. Whenever there was a loud bang, they would react. Even though it is a sunny day and everything is normal, you’ll see them frightened when the tarpaulin moves. Some of them were inside their houses and their houses were fully blown away.”

    The Psycho-social First Aid training we provided teachers and community members aimed to specifically address this sort of trauma, by giving carers the skills needed to recognise and cope with psychological distress in children.

    Saving lives after rapid onset emergencies like Cyclone Winston certainly requires fast action, and I’ve been privileged to see that our emergency response interventions did indeed address the immediate needs of children across the country.

    While there is still a lot to be done to support communities to rebuild houses and schools, Save the Children is working hard to build resilience among families. We have implemented a number of programs to ensure entire communities are prepared for the next disaster of Tropical Cyclone Winston’s magnitude.

    I’d already seen the longer-term benefits of Psychosocial First Aid training when I first visited in September, and how as a tool it would be useful for communities in years to come. In addition, Save the Children has trained teachers on Disaster Risk Reduction evacuation planning and procedures, helping them to identify potential hazards and safe places to direct students in the event of another disaster.

    Children brace for an earthquake in a DRR evacuation drill at Salialevu Primary School. The drills come from training delivered by Save the Children in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

    And now, with Disaster Risk Management training and procedures in place in schools across the country, I’m excited to be here as Save the Children moves into the next phase to make sure more families and the broader community are prepared for the next disaster. Save the Children is helping build resilience in communities vulnerable to natural disaster by developing Kids Clubs. In the Kids Clubs, that are to be held once a fortnight after school, children are encouraged to participate in conversations about emergencies and what they think is important when preparing for and enduring disasters. This new program aims to reach 5,600 direct beneficiaries and 40,000 indirect beneficiaries in the next four years.

    It’s certainly an ambitious program, and will take a lot hard work, but from what I’ve seen, Save the Children staff here in Fiji know it’s imperative that families are well-equipped to face the next cyclone. And they’re certainly not afraid to do whatever it takes to build resilience and protect the children of Fiji in years to come.

    Tim Muir, Information and Communications Coordinator, Humanitarian Surge Team, Save the Children