Our Projects officer Rev. Mike Hawke has returned to Fiji once again to assess damage and work toward a response plan from Anglican Missions in partnership with the Diocese of Polynesia. He has sent through some of his initial experiences and reactions below.
They say "you don't get a second chance to make a first impression."
These words hit me hard as we finally arrived in the remote village of Maniyava in Northern Viti Levu, Fiji.
I awoke at 3am on Wed 9 March, ready and waiting for the Diocesan Secretary and Registrar, John Simmons, to pick me up in the bright red 4 wheel drive. Already in the car was Archbishop Winston (how tedious it must be for him to hear the same old reference to him being part of the Cyclone; though he continues to smile at the jokes!) Lloyd Ashton, journalist and Taonga media officer, completed the group and we were off. Our first stop was the worst. Nothing could have prepared us for the absolute carnage we witnessed in the Anglican village of Maniyava, deep in the heart of Fiji and a long way off the beaten track. Johns 4 wheel drive will never be the same and neither will we! Archbishop Winston lamented that he had never seen anything like it in his life.
Out of a village of 32 houses, 28 have been either flattened, blown over, blown away or disintegrated. Lloyd Ashton will tell you the story in the latest Anglican Taonga of a "man pilot" who flew 50 meters along with his house. The kids were spared only because they took refuge under the floorboards! They found him unconscious but alive. Hallelujah!
The Chief and his family lost their whole house, not unlike many other families. They now live in a makeshift hut on top of the old foundations and have a cosy little room carved out under the house. This is fine until it rains but unfortunately it is not yet waterproof.
The school dormitory about eight kilometers from the village was completely destroyed. At this stage the children can no longer attend school as the daily 3-4 hour return walk is too much and the school itself has no roof.
The kava plants have been destroyed. This is a major issue as the plants take three years for harvest and it is the vital cash crop for the village. This has plunged them in to immediate short-term as well as future financial bankruptcy. Other crops like cassava and Taro only take 8 months. Meanwhile emergency food supplies are filling the gap.
Already the repairs have started. Using old bits of timber and corrugated iron scattered all over the place, they have "fixed" 4 more houses so every villager has a place to lay their head.
Before leaving and having heard their stories we prayed ate and sang. Off we drove down the rotten hole-ridden track they call a road, across streams and endless bridges in various states of repair until we hit the main road. Along the entire road were roofless houses and schools. Derelict though they looked, the devastation we had just witnessed in Maniyava stunned me and made any other carnage look somewhat lesser. Although each one had a sad story behind it.
We then caught the boat and headed to the island of Ovalau and the town of Levuka (the original capital of Fiji). Carnage abounded here too with roofs off, walls down, play centers a crumpled mess, water tanks holed, trees felled, boats high dry and mounted along the shore line.
Levuka is the location of ‘Holy Redeemer’ the First Anglican Church in Fiji. While relatively ok, rainwater has penetrated through the roof and floors are soggy. The odd stain glass has flown away and decorates the grass nearby!
St James Primary school lost many reading books and desks. Iosefo Neikini, the new and enthusiastic head teacher, has not long arrived and will now face many more challenges. The new School Chaplain Fr Jeke is also keen to make a difference.
As we drove round the island we were by now punch drunk on carnage and devastation. There was some compensation in the fantastic meal and wine provided by John's Sister in law. John is a Simmons and he has relatives in every second village all over Fiji (and probably the world!). We arrived back at the Ferry with minus 10 minutes to spare. Yes the boat was actually waiting for us as Lloyd and I had earlier made it clear to John that we don't do 4 am starts! But the Lord looked after us thanks to the presence of an Archbishop plus a Simmons. The owner of the boat is a relative of Archbishop Winston.
We continued driving west to Lautoka and then to Nadi, dropping Archbishop Winston off at the airport to fly to Tonga. The 3 of us then stopped at a beautiful beach to wash our sweaty bodies but not our memories from the past 2 days. Fresh coconut and Pawpaw were a welcome relief.
We await Archbishop Winston’s return on Monday to gather our thoughts and prayers to plan a New Zealand nation wide response.
In His service,
Mike and the other 3 musketeers.