Opinion

Cyclone Winston And Schools: Many Don’t Know Where To Begin

Rajendra Prasad is the author of Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji. He is a former town clerk of Ba.   In the aftermath of
04 Mar 2016 08:58
Cyclone Winston And Schools: Many Don’t Know Where To Begin
Shastri Memorial School before Cyclone Winston

Rajendra Prasad is the author of Tears in Paradise – Suffering and Struggles of Indians in Fiji. He is a former town clerk of Ba.

 

In the aftermath of Cyclone Winston that ravaged Fiji, people are collecting the pieces to restore their homes but for many it is too difficult to know where to begin and how and from where to gather the resources.

Many would be sifting through the twisted wreckage to salvage pieces of timber and corrugated iron to provide immediate shelter for their families. The damage and destruction is heart breaking and the task monumental. It is unlike any other that wrought Fiji such damage, death and destruction.

 

Stunned nation rises to help

As a stunned nation rises to help its distraught people, soon the emotions would give way to courage and resolution in people to restore their lives from the debris of Cyclone Winston. For many, life will never be the same. Fiji has been through such tragedies before and courage, fortitude and resilience of its people to gather the twigs and rebuild their broken nests has been spectacular.

 

Making bold, rational decisions

However, destruction caused by Cyclone Winston classifies it as manifestly an ugly monster that tore through the nation with wrath and fury, hitherto never imagined or experienced. It is rated as the most powerful cyclone ever in the Southern Hemisphere.

Among the damage to the infrastructure, schools in most areas, suffered most. Roofless school buildings stand as testimony to the brute strength of Cyclone Winston. Schools in Fiji have a long history of providing shelter to communities that resided in its immediate vicinity at such times. People took school buildings as the most secure village structures for sheltering themselves and their families. Cyclone Winston has not respected their trust and faith, as roofless structures now stand silent and somnolent, as if in awe and dread.

However, emotions must not give way to irrational decisions, particularly in times of adversity. It is time for making bold and rational decisions. There is truth in the axiom that adversity does provide opportunity to the brave and bold. Indeed, this opportunity has now arrived for the Government to review provision of schools throughout Fiji and close those that are surplus to needs of an area.  It will obviate the need to repair needlessly some schools for reason that there is tragic duplication of such facilities. Some are located within spitting distance!

 

Schools surplus to an area to be closed

For example, in my former village, Vaqia in Ba – three schools, Shastri Memorial School, Rarawai Muslim School and Vunisamaloa Sangam School, are located very near to each other. One school can cater for the needs of thearea that the three schools now provide. Indeed, following the coups and eviction of farmers from their farms and homes, school rolls in each of the schools has dwindled to uneconomic levels but they continued to operate because they were there.

At its peak, Shastri Memorial School had close to 400 pupils on the roll but now it is near 150. Rarawai Muslim School may have fewer than 100 pupils and Vunisamaloa Sangam School around 100 pupils. What the Government may want to do is to maintain one large primary school and convert one secondary school to cater for a large area and convert one to a vocational training centre.

Similarly, in Tagitagi, Tavua two schools opposite each other, fronting Kings Road, Tagitagi Sangam School and Tagitagi Public School, cater for a large area but with limited population.

Hundreds of families have moved, following massive eviction of people from their farms and homes in this area and existence of two schools is surplus to the needs of the area. Indeed, one could easily be converted to a Secondary School/vocational training centre, subject to demographic assessment and evaluation.

 

Sectarian schools have had great impact

Further, retention of schools that have sectarian tinge, contravened current Government’s professed policy to obliterate such distinctions that tended to divide peoples. However, the contribution of these bodies in the provision of schools in remote areas, in particular, remains inestimable.

They lit the light of education in areas where darkness of ignorance reigned. Gradually, the light spread and lit the nation, as people from every community, came to accept and appreciate the value of education and ensured educating their children.

Historically, provision of large schools in the period 1950s-1970s was a necessity as families carried huge crop of children.

A nuclear family usually had eight to 12 children, which necessitated provision of large schools to cater for large number of pupils. However, with demographic changes in rural areas for various reasons and a nuclear family now having one to three children, the need for retaining so many schools cannot be justified. Indeed, the Government should devise a national criterion for provision of schools and close those schools that have become surplus to the needs of a designated area.

However, the existing facilities that are closed could, if considered appropriate, easily be converted to secondary schools or established as vocational training centres. Such provision would greatly enhance accessibility to education and training within a designated area, eliminating need for transport and provision for transport costs. Repairing and restoring all schools would consume millions of dollars and they should not be repairedonly because they were there. Reason and not emotion should guide such decisions and public must appreciate that Cyclone Winston’s adversity is also a good opportunity for change that may provide long-term benefits to them and the nation.

 

Winston, agent of change, redirection

In the aftermath, Cyclone Winston may also become an agent of change and redirection for many families to relocate for a variety of reasons. Occasionally, unforeseen circumstances, even destructive, arrive as harbingers of change.

In recent memory, evicted farmers from their sugarcane farms, relocated mostly to the urban fringes. Gradually, they built their lives and discovered that it was far better than their earlier lives of struggle and poverty on the farms. The situation now requires bold and decisive action by parents. It may help if you look into the anxious eyes of your children, as they radiate hope and expectation that may best be fulfilled by relocation.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama is on a mission to visit the distressed and distraught and infuse hope amidst prevailing hopelessness. Some have given him the Messiah status but do not expect him to turn water into wine! The task is onerous, resources is scarce and journey is likely to be fraught with frustrations and disappointments. Gather courage and pick up the twigs and scantlings to rebuild and restore your lives with whatever help comes from Government and other sources. I have been through such situations, though not as devastating, during annual visitations of hurricane and cyclones until 1987 and always admired the courage, resilience and determination of people to begin restoration immediately afterwards.

 

We abroad share in your pain, grief

We, who now live abroad, share the pain and grief of people of Fiji. We stand with you, by you and for you in your hour of greatest need. Fiji has a special place in our hearts and will always remain so.

Your pain is our pain; we will do whatever possible within our means to share your burden. Container loads of food, clothing and other essential items have started leaving for Fiji to assist you to cope with your immediate needs.Unfortunately, it is going to be a long and arduous journey of recovery and restoration, unlike any other that we know, heard or experienced.

With hearts pounding with grief, lips quivering with sorrow and palms joined together, we pray to Almighty God to give you courage, resilience and determination to bear this tragedy and help build a better and more secure future for yourselves and your families! God Bless Fiji.

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