NATION

Hope Keeps Qamea Community Alive

UNICEF staff members, Iosefo Volau (education specialist) and Jonathan Hall (emergency officer), visited the landslide-affected community of Dreketi on Qamea Island north of Taveuni. Below Mr Hall and Ms Volau
26 Mar 2017 09:57
Hope Keeps Qamea Community Alive
Dreketi Village framed by several landslides. Photo: UNICEF

UNICEF staff members, Iosefo Volau (education specialist) and Jonathan Hall (emergency officer), visited the landslide-affected community of Dreketi on Qamea Island north of Taveuni.

Below Mr Hall and Ms Volau relate the stories and experiences of the villagers and how UNICEF support is helping the community get back on its feet.

 

In the distance we see an island emerging, dense green colours drape the dramatic mountains rising steeply from the shore.

As we draw in closer to Qamea Island we see several naked scars cut into the landscape. Across the island muddy landslides mar the thick lush forest.

In December 2016 tropical depression TD04F caused heavy rains and flooding across many parts of Fiji. On Qamea the rains culminated in devastating landslides, we easily count five or six before we reach the village of Dreketi.

We travelled the one-hour distance by boat from Taveuni, the closest island to this remote community, which is only accessible at high tide.

Today the tide was later than expected and we spend an hour in the shade of palm trees, our ears playing tricks on us as we imagine we can hear the hum of a motorboat in the distance every few minutes. Marica Moce, head teacher of the local school, arrives with the boat and greets us with as much warmth as the colours she is wearing. On the journey she tells us of the horror she felt as the building she was in began moving.

“We all ran from the village to Natacala” she recalls carefully, casting her eyes towards Qamea, the ocean still stretching out ahead of us. “Natacala is a small settlement. We all stayed in three houses. We were afraid to return.

“How many people live in Dreketi?” we ask and she responds with “180.”

We reach Dreketi. The village lies along the shore, towering up behind it is the mountain, bare in several places where the land crashed into the homes and buildings below.

“We lost the school which had just been renovated,” Ms Moce says. “The community centre and health centre were also completely destroyed.”

Standing proudly in the middle of the village is the church – it was not affected. Surrounding the relative safety of this site, UNICEF provided tents have been erected and we see children and teachers inside, busy with the day’s lessons.

After paying our respects to the local chief, Turaga na Tui Laucala, we received his blessing to spend the day with the children and the community. Popping into the tents the children smile when we ask them what they think about the new classrooms and tell us happily they are glad because without them “we wouldn’t be in school again.”

We later learn from their parents that many families were considering moving to another island in order to enrol their children in school, but UNICEF support made it possible to stay in their home village.

“The children were so excited when they saw the tents go up, they couldn’t wait to start school again” says Ms Meci, one of the mothers.

Ms Meci explains to us how not only were buildings damaged, but much of the land they cultivate for crops was on the mountain, which families rely on for food or income. Up to 80 per cent of the crops are gone, including large plantations of cassava and yaqona (Kava) which take five years to harvest and formed a critical part of the villagers’ income.

“We are scared to replant, what if there is another landslide?” Meci pauses. “If we go up in the bush, we creep.”

The school is receiving food supplies from UNICEF to help the families whilst the community recovers. We admire the villager’s positivity.

“We are working to prepare meals for our children, four families work together each day. It is good because it has made us a closer community,” says Ms Meci.

During the lunch break the children play around the church, the old playing field is now a “red zone” with loose boulders and a risk of further landslides.

Twelve-year-old Semi a grade eight student, is tall for his age and at first seems shy but soon confidently tells us he likes playing soccer.

“What would you like to be when you are older?” He doesn’t hesitate and shares his dreams of becoming a soldier “I want to travel and see the world.”

Semi’s home was submerged in the mud of the landslide and he is now living with his grandparents.

His parents are working in the capital city, Suva, thousands of kilometres away.

His face creases “When it rains we run outside and look at the mountain,” he looks concerned, then breaking into a smile again he adds “I miss the old school, but I really like the tents.”

He takes us to see his grandmother, a delicate lady with a firm handshake.

When it rains we learn that the parents all rush to the school, they still fear what the rain might bring with it.

There is an unease lingering in the air and children and adults alike have trouble sleeping. Semi’s grandfather is not home, but we come across him later diligently planting cassava in upturned ground nearby “We can harvest it in six months, and the landslide has even done the weeding for us,” he jokes.

Later we ask some of the adults about the future of the village. They frown, it is an unwelcome topic.

“Twenty-five per cent of the village have left Qamea. We are scared, some of us had to swim in strong currents to escape the landslides, but we all survived.

“We have hope, we have support. We are working together. We feel a sense of community. We plan to stay.”

UNICEF provided essential education, food and shelter supplies to the school and community of Dreketi on Qamea Island. Supplies included eight tents (used for classrooms and teachers’ quarters), tarpaulins, a school-in-a-box kit (which contains vital learning materials), school backpacks and food rations for the school feeding programme. The supplies were jointly distributed with the Ministry of Education.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj



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