School rebuilding

Cyclone Winston swept across Fiji in February this year just as Temptress was preparing to leave Panama. Described as a once in a hundred years event it was the strongest cyclone ever recorded. On Koro island eight people lost their lives, fortunately on Makogai no one was killed but every family lost their home and the school was destroyed. Many villagers are still living in tents provided by aid agencies but slowly the families are repairing roofs and rebuilding their homes. It is a team effort seriously hampered by lack of resources, they salvage wood from the most derelict buildings to enable the repairs of the less damaged. The government has priorities elsewhere, on Koro four thousand people lost their homes, shops and fishing boats.

In the bay at Makogai the yachts were all flying Sea Mercy flags and their crews are helping rebuild the village school on the other side of the island. On Sunday we met first Joshua, Sadie and Jacob the kids from Carpe Diem, then their parents Hannah and James then later Ian and Wendy from the catamaran Outsider. We spent most of the morning drinking coffee and getting to know each other in Temptress’ cockpit. 

As a result early Monday saw Kevin and I joining the team for the half hour long-boat (a 26 foot long narrow dory with a 40HP outboard) ride around the coast to the village. On the trip round Ian trailed a lure, the kids were excited as he frequently catches lunch enroute. Today was no exception with a nice fat tuna taking the hook after just a few minutes. We wish we knew your secret Ian!

Ian has been overseeing the Sea Mercy school rebuilding project since just a few days after Cyclone Winston and James a native of St Helena contributed his carpentry skills about three months ago. Outsider arrived here with two large water tanks strapped to the trampolines and a lot of tools! Two new buildings are in progress, one on the remnants of its predecessor of which only the floor remained after Winston, the other completely from scratch as a government surveyor condemned the ruin of the breeze block building.  

When finished each school building will house two class rooms and the new building will also contain a small office, whilst the middle partition of the other will be removable so the whole space can be used as a community space for church services or other village gatherings. Many of the villagers turned out to help, whether it was because there were new people in town ie us or whether they had decided to start the week/month with a new enthusiasm we’ll never know but soon we were shaking hands with lots of new friendly faces and working alongside them. 

Amongst the crowd are two English medical students here for six weeks partly helping with health matters and partly with the build, they live in a tent on the school playing field. Today’s problem is scabies; with no hot water to wash clothes it is very difficult to eliminate the problem and most of the children have contracted scabies in the months since Winston. We promised to bring our remaining bin liners over so they can treat the clothing by using a powder and leaving the clothes in the dark for three days whilst a meeting with the villagers that evening was followed up by the Mum’s setting to the next day to heat water in their largest cooking pots so the could make a start on treating their children’s clothing. There is no gas or electricity on the island, wood fires are used for cooking and once it is dark they go to bed.

James was cutting plywood to line the internal walls of the “renovated” building, I joined a team helping paint the cut ends, apply glue to the wooden frame then nail the panels into place. Meanwhile above us on planks supported by the rafters and some scaffold stands David from Anahata assisted by a couple of local guys cut and screwed on thin strips of wood over the joins in the plywood panelling that forms the underside of the roof, once they’d done another group set to with rollers and painted it white. By the end of the day the room was almost complete internally though window surrounds, glazing and doors are still required. 

Outside Kevin assisted Ian in cutting and undercoating strips of wood to cover the joins between the external panelling whilst villagers painted. The front wall is already complete, painted canary yellow in contrast to the green tree trunks that support the wide roof, it sports a gaily coloured mural of palm trees and sailing boats. The guttering leads to large tanks for collecting rain water essential for drinking and cooking as the only well is brackish.

Sadly the new school has few resources as yet, all the books and materials were destroyed in the cyclone. Wendy has a meeting set up with the Fiji Education Department but fears that with budgets overstretched by the cyclone recovery there will be little they can offer. If you’d like to help out please visit the Sea Mercy web site.