CARE’s response to Tropical Cyclone Winston: Alumita's Story

 Fiji
 Climate ChangeEmergency Response, Water Sanitation & Hygiene,
 21st Feb 2017

The strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, Winston swept through Fiji on Saturday 20 February, devastating the Pacific nation. Altogether, 350,000 people were affected with 42 killed and 131 injured. CARE jointly delivered aid with our local partners in Fiji, Live and Learn, to some of the hardest hit communities, reaching more than 25,000 people across 231 villages and 19 schools. On the mainland, two of the most severely impacted villages were in the Rakiraki region, where this interview took place. The aid delivered here consisted primarily of seed kits, hygiene kits (the red buckets, containing soap bars, toothbrushes, toothpaste, women’s hygiene items, and water purification tablets), shelter/tool kits (containing tarps, ropes and tools (which varied depending on need; to these two communities tools included hammers, saws, pry bars, and shovels)).


Alumita’s story in her own words

I’ve got three kids, all girls. The eldest is in school nearby. The next one is in primary school.Before Winston we were here and our source of income was selling cassava root crops and vegetables, and weaving mats.

The wind really affected us. Me, as a mother to three children. At the time my youngest was just a new-born. We least expected Tropical Cyclone Winston to arrive on Saturday. My husband went to the shop. On his way back the wind followed him.

We are sitting on the foundation of our house. There is nothing left of the house.

When my husband walked in the wind was so strong that we couldn’t close the door. As a mother I was very scared. We grabbed what we could and moved to a corner. The roof started coming off. I told my husband to take the baby to a safer house. I have never seen such winds. I never allowed the fear to take over me so I could be a strong mother to my children. The whole roof was gone and the rain was falling upon us.

The experience was very frightening. One of the branches from the mango tree fell into the house. But there was only one corner left to shelter behind. We could feel the floor moving so I grabbed my children and hid them under the floor. They were crying “Mum please come down here with us – we don’t want you to die.” That corner and the floor protected us until the wind went away.

When we were in the last corner of the house, one of the timber bars fell on my back. The effect of the pain was excruciating. Afterwards I wanted to carry my baby but the pain made me unable to carry her and unable to carry out my daily activities.

The pain lasted six weeks. I couldn’t carry my baby or do any activities around the house. The doctors gave me medication.

CARE and Live and Learn have immensely helped us. In our time of need we – as you can see – the aid you provided us is starting to bear fruits. The seedlings of tomatoes, eggplant, cabbages, is so much in our daily lives. As I have teenage daughters the red bucket was so useful for me and the whole household as well.

The water containers helped a lot in getting water from the boreholes, especially in getting water for cooking and for washing.The nearest borehole is just 10 to 20 steps away.

Things have tremendously changed. Especially our income. All the vegetables were blown away. The mats that I weave were the only way I could earn an income to look after my children’s welfare. We are slowly getting back to normal. I am starting to weave the mats again. The pandanas leaf is the resource I use to weave the mats. But Winston destroyed all the pandanas leaves so I was unable to weave mats.

One of my hopes is for the livelihood of our family. For me and my husband in strengthening our bond and a sense of purpose from our creator to always regather and restart from scratch. It is a learning experience for starting off our family in a new house.

 

The only hopes and goals that we work towards is our daughters’ education and to get good employment so they will not know these hardships and can sustain themselves, even though disasters like Tropical Cyclone Winston.

And to enjoy life as we all have the right to.

One of the major issues and worries for me as a mother is to finance my children’s education. Especially when children are asked to pay school fees. These things are not easily available to us. We haven’t had access to a source of income. I tell my husband that salt and sugar would be nice to have. We eat whatever we have around the home. We are thankful that we can enjoy each other’s company as a family. Even though we have nothing, the most important value is to have that love and care in the household.

I was lost in thought after Winston. It had affected my mental abilities and my role as a mother. I wanted to be alone a lot to deal with the anxieties and fear of what had happened and how to be a mother and a wife. The memory of Winston hitting our village is stored at the back of my mind.

I’d like to thank you again for your assistance. [It was] what we really needed in the house and for farming. Seeing the aid from people that care rebuilt my spirits and my health mentally and spiritually, and it helped my family as well.


Find out more about our work in Fiji here.

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