By Corinne Ambler, IFRC
Samuela Naborokia giggles as he glides down the ramp of his brand new house in his wheelchair. The 84-year-old from Naboutolu village in Fiji’s Ra province is showing visitors the features of his new house – the ramps, an indoor bathroom, toilet and kitchen, and the stronger construction methods that make it more cyclone-proof.
Sam is one of 77,000 people helped by Fiji Red Cross over the last year. He was the first person in Fiji to receive a Red Cross “core shelter”, a demonstration house constructed under the Build Back Safer scheme.
“Before this, I had to wait for someone to carry me to the toilet. Now I can take myself. The house is also good because it’s very cool in the hot season and it’s also strong, not like the old one. I want to thank the Red Cross for this beautiful house,” he says.
Fiji Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have completed six core shelters so far and plan to construct a total of 35 in the worst hit areas across Fiji, as well as distribute Build Back Safer kits to communities.
The Director General of Fiji Red Cross, Filipe Nainoca, says the houses are just one of the innovative things his organisation is trying for the first time.
“The team is designing, drawing and building the houses and people are saying they’re the best homes they’ve seen. We’re using them to train carpenters, more than 60 so far, and they’ve already started helping those in their communities build safer homes,” he says.
Fiji Red Cross has been taking a holistic approach, helping the most vulnerable with emergency aid, as well as shelter, sanitation, clean water, health and hygiene messaging and psychosocial support.
Through house-to-house visits and community meetings with the health team, 17,000 people have received information on how to avoid disease and keep themselves healthy.
“We visit each house in the community, sit each family down and go through things they should know about health, hygiene, water, and we talk to them about their experiences,” Mr Nainoca says.
“We don’t just visit once and leave. We tell these families that we’re going to come back and that we’re going to keep coming back. This is a commitment that we’ve made. I’ve received stories from Koro Island that one year later men and women still talk about their experience with tears in their eyes. They are still severely emotionally impacted,” Mr Nainoca explains.
Fiji Red Cross has never provided psychosocial support before, but its director general says this has been a lifeline for those who have been through the biggest cyclone ever to hit Fiji. So far more than 100 trained volunteers have provided psychosocial support to 3,445 people.
The water and sanitation team has also broken new ground. For the first time in Fiji a rural spring protection system has been built, with the help of an expert from Timor Leste Red Cross. He worked with Fiji Red Cross teams and the local community to protect the spring source to prevent contamination and ensure good water flows all year round.
So far two springs have been protected, supplying more than 2000 people with safe water.
“It’s like they will be drinking, bathing in Fiji Water for the next 5 to 10 years. Can you imagine that? Water so clean you can drink it because it comes straight out of the spring,” Mr Nainoca says.
Melesi Varakuka, head man of Naboutolu village, says the spring has made a huge difference to the health of his people. “Before this, I had cases of typhoid in my village but since the spring protection I don’t have any sickness.”
Mr Nainoca says the last year has been challenging but his staff, volunteers and the organisation have grown enormously, and he’s looking forward to reaching even more people during the remaining three months of the recovery operation.
“We as an organisation now believe that we can do anything. There’s nothing that can stop us and there’s no new challenge that we’ll be afraid to take because we’ve taken the most difficult one.
“Amazingly more than 76,000 people have benefited from what we’ve been able to do. It’s an amazing number as we look back now and see – did we really get to assist that many people? Yes we did. Thank you to the volunteers and staff who have sacrificed so much.”
Fiji Red Cross is auxiliary to public authorities and Mr Nainoca says the achievements of the last year would not have been possible without the support of the Government, which allowed the Red Cross to bring in emergency aid and experts from overseas and gave it free access to communities.
He also thanked the public, corporate donors, and the international Red Cross Movement.
“To all those who helped us, vinaka vakalevu. You have our word and our commitment that Fiji Red Cross will continue to do our level best, and not only that, to do it with excellence, to do it properly, and to do it with integrity.”