Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere made landfall in Fiji on 20 February, flattening entire villages with torrential rain, storm surges and winds of more than 300 km per hour.
More than 40 people were killed and thousands of homes damaged. Hospitals, schools, crops, livestock and water supplies were hit and thousands of Fijians were forced to shelter in schools, churches and community buildings. Many remain there today. Thanks to a generous response to UnitingWorld’s emergency appeal – gifts of almost $200 000 – UnitingWorld were able to respond quickly. Funds are being used to assist the Methodist Church in Fiji, a partner church of the Uniting Church in Australia, to work alongside the Fijian government and provide humanitarian relief to thousands of people throughout affected communities.
In particular, providing food, shelter, water purification tablets and cooking utensils, which are critically important for preparing the type of food that is distributed in emergencies and for purifying potentially contaminated water. These materials are being bought in non-affected areas of Fiji, helping to buoy the local economy and sustain the livelihoods of local people.
The Methodist Church in Fiji is focusing their efforts on ‘the gaps’ – looking after communities not being reached by other agencies and vulnerable households, such as those headed by women or with disabled members. In response to a direct request, UnitingWorld were also able to provide training in disaster recovery chaplaincy. In the aftermath of disaster people suffer from trauma. They need support to build resilience and cope with their changed circumstances; and the people providing that support, often pastors, church leaders and chaplains, need skills to build-up their own resilience to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout.
Fifty-five women and men attended the first workshop in Suva, Fiji, which was led by Rev Dr Stephen Robinson, national disaster recovery officer of the Uniting Church in Australia, and Rev Dr Cliff Bird, from UnitingWorld. The workshop focused on how to care for traumatised people in times of need and how to provide peer support for those working in some of the worst affected areas.
“It’s one of the very unique things we offer after a disaster,” says Michael Constable, UnitingWorld’s emergency response manager.
“You can imagine how important for long term recovery it is for people to have this kind of support, but it’s not easy to provide. The church is well networked and with this new training, we’re in a great position to offer emotional and psychological support that will set these communities up for a stronger recovery.”
Longer term, funds raised through the emergency appeal will be used to rebuild schools, and church and community buildings – using a ‘build back better approach’’ to ensure the safety of people in the future.
To support this appeal call UnitingWorld on 1800 998 122 or to donate online and to read updates, visit http://www.unitingworld.org.au/unitingworld-launches-emergency-appeal.
You can also send cheques to: UnitingWorld, PO Box A2266, Sydney South NSW 1235.