Despite the devastating loss that occurred here, a visit to Ra Province today reveals a population working hard to rebuild with significant progress and community spirit.
“That’s caring for each other,” says Rupeni, referring again to the idea of vei lomani. “To uplift our lives despite the difficulties after the cyclone.”
Rupeni led the rebuilding efforts in Namarai; volunteering his skills as a carpenter and driven by his love of community. Similarly, Rai asked the people of Nabukadra to come together and work hard so the village could return to be an even better place after Winston.
“The old Nabukadra is gone and you can see this is a new Nabukadra,” he says, referring to both the physical and emotional change in his village over the 18 months since Cyclone Winston.
At Bayly Memorial School in Barotu, where Asmita teaches, tradespeople put the finishing touches of paint on new classrooms that were badly damaged during Winston. When the students returned to school, Asmita noticed an increased interest in the subject of climate change.
“Since they have gone through the experience, they are very attentive. They participate and they [speak from their own] real life experiences,” Asmita explains. “Some of the things they could not prepare for [before Winston]. And now they have learned about it, they know if the warning is there what they should do.”
Cyclone Winston is was an example of new enemies facing Ra communities like Namarai and Nabukadra. Enemies that are linked to climate change. Although it has the second largest economy in the Pacific, extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels represent major obstacles to Fiji’s development and economy.
According to the Fiji Climate Vulnerability Assessment 2017, a significant new report produced by the government of Fiji in partnership with the World Bank, in order to reduce climate vulnerability, Fiji needs an investment of over F$9.3 billion over the next ten years. It’s a huge challenge requiring major investment.
Yet the people of Ra are pragmatic but determined when contemplating the future and the changing environment around them.
“We’re all [people in Ra] facing difficult times,” says Rai who is struggling to meet his family’s financial targets some 18 months after Winston took away much of his sources of income. Rai is not alone. On average, 25,700 Fijians are pushed into poverty due to tropical cyclones and floods each year. According to the Vulnerability Assessment, this number is set to rise to 32,400 by 2050.
“I can handle the work and my will power is strong… But my hope for my children, is to strive for their education, their lives and their families in the good future,” says Rai.
“This is a rare thing, but you find resilient people in Ra… Caring for each other,” reflects Rupeni. “One reason why Fiji is paradise is because it’s a country that cares.”
When asked if she thinks she will see a storm like Winston again in her lifetime, 24-year old Asmita is hesitant to answer. “I just pray to God that nothing like this happens again,”she says. “[But] if it does happen in the future people will be strong and they will work hand in hand.”
Our Home, Our People is a storytelling project produced by the Fijian Government, in partnership with the World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and the ACP-EU Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Program.
Encompassing a 360° virtual reality video and this site, Our Home, Our People explores climate change vulnerability and resilience in Fiji through the stories of our people. Combined with findings of the Climate Vulnerability Assessment 2017, the memories, hopes, fears of Asmita, Rai, Rupeni and Catalina show us how rising sea levels and extreme weather impact Fijian people today, and what support is required in the future. Photography and photo captions by Alana Holmberg, words and storytelling by Arieta Tora Rika.