Red Cross provides psycho-social support to the communities affected by Cyclone Winston

Published: 16 March 2016 7:57 CET

By Navinesh Kumar, IFRC

In February, tropical cyclone Winston left a trail of destruction across Fiji, with more than 40 people confirmed dead, hundreds of houses destroyed and thousands left homeless. The physical devastation caused by the cyclone was extensive but there are also emotional wounds that are not so evident and which impact people’s ability to recover and move forward after such a devastating event.

To help address the mental trauma associated with a disaster of this scale, Holly Griffin, Psychosocial Support Delegate with the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is in the country training Fiji Red Cross Society (FRCS) staff and volunteers on how to provide psychological first aid to survivors.

Griffin is supporting Fiji Red Cross to adapt resources developed in New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquake in 2011 to meet the current needs of people in Fiji. The Fiji Red Cross is also using these resources to provide support to its volunteers and staff who are out on the field every day helping people who are distressed at the great losses they have suffered.

“This emotional support is important as it ensures that the staff and volunteers have the skills to walk alongside their communities on the long road to recovery,” said Griffin.

She added that it is clear the spirit of Fiji is strong; there are cohesive and well-connected communities with people who support each other.

 “With the support of family, friends and their wider communities, most people will recover. Support and an understanding of the emotional and social challenges faced by communities from those working in recovery can strengthen this natural recovery process”.

“Having the opportunity, when we feel ready, to tell our story to someone who will listen with care and understanding can help us begin to process what has happened. Knowing that someone cares and is here to listen gives hope that recovery is possible”.

Fiji Red Cross Savusavu Branch President Ateca Nayasi has been leading the team of volunteers from Savusavu in the Northern District of Fiji making assessments of villager’s needs and distributing relief items since the day following Cyclone Winston.

Ateca is not only volunteering her time to support families affected by the storm, she is an affected resident herself. When she returned home the afternoon of the storm to get her sister and four year old son, her home was already flooded with water. “I was swimming like a fish in my house,” she said. “Until I can go back to my home, it is good not to be alone. Here I am surrounded by my team and am helping others. It is not an easy job, hearing people’s stories. But I can see in their faces that they know I care and it feels good to know I can help”.

Director General of the Fiji Red Cross Filipe Nainoca welcomed this initiative, not only because of the valuable service it provided to affected communities, but also because of the opportunity to train locals in this particular skillset, enabling them to facilitate discussions on the disaster with their peers, thereby localising the humanitarian response.

"Some people have lost everything, they need somebody to talk to, we want to provide a forum where they can verbalise their experiences and emotions as a starting point for rebuilding their lives."

The trainings began last week in Suva and will also be also be carried out in Vanua Levu, and throughout Fiji over the course of March.