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Lessons in a tent // New life in the rubble

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I love this shot. Girls we support in class, lessons in a tent against the backdrop of their school, now without a roof, many rooms destroyed, books and desks ripped apart, windows smashed; the end result resembles an explosion in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston.
But life goes on, it must, a new normal is being established in the rubble. Post disasters and trauma this is vital to help people recover and move forward and find the strength to rebuild.

Damage in Penang classroomLast week, our team member Kym who is a chaplain, visited our Coordinator Urmila and the community we work with to sit with them and listen to the recount of the night of the storm, the fear, the injuries, the homes that were lost, livelihoods destroyed.
She also visited the schools we work with and was accompanied by photographer Georgie Adams, whose images we have been sharing on social media this weekend. Georgie snapped the Girls learning in the tent and it’s one of our favourites – Girls valuing education when it would be easier for them to be at home helping mum and dad rebuild and clean up.
One of the best stories to come from our assessment team in the week after the cyclone was when we heard that so many of our Girls, when they knew the cyclone was coming, had grabbed their books and uniforms and put them in a plastic bag to protect them from damage. Many items were still destroyed but they knew they needed to try and keep their school things safe, education is their way out of the poverty cycle and into the kind of future they dream about.

BooksWhat we are doing to help with recovery and how you can be involved:
• We have a general appeal open which we are using to respond to needs as they arise. So far we have sent funds for food and water, medicines, torches, clothing, bedding and travel funds for people to be able to get around. We have covered expenses for volunteers to be able to carry out assessments of the 60 Girls and their families, and have begun the task of replacing materials for income generating projects such as chickens and chicken coops.
• Our great friends the German International School Sydney are raising funds to rebuild our Coordinator, Urmila’s house which was completely destroyed. She and her family are living in a tent without electricity and with limited clean water. This is their link.
• In 8 weeks (eek! Fitness levels!) I will be trekking across Fiji to raise funds for life to get back to normal, this money will help mums re-establish small businesses, provide solar lamps, help replace glasses that or fill prescription medications that were lost or are now needed due to injuries that have been sustained. That sort of thing, these little things that make a big difference to quality of life often get overlooked in disaster responses. Click here to support this.

Kym and RaviThank you to those people who have already given – finances, time, skill, prayers and compassion. Every gift is valued and is life changing for people as they navigate this hugely challenging time.

Little girl sunrays

We are grateful for this community of people that rises to support both Girls’ education and the dignity of their mums and dads to be able to provide this themselves.

Vinaka!

Warmly,

Jane for team ‘ a Girl & her world’

If you would like to see more of Georgie’s work, visit www.following-clover.com

Stay up to date with us by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and by subscribing to our newsletter.Kym and Georgie kids

Disaster response and the kindness of strangers

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You may have sensed some overwhelm in last week’s blog update. Our Coordinator Urmila had lost everything, she and her family had been injured in the fury of TC Winston and we had only been able to locate 6 of 60 Girls we support at that stage. It felt raw and heavy.

We are still in the impact and response phase of the February 20 disaster, but this week we have seen glimpses of recovery.

Urmila and her family were moved from the evacuation centre back to their land (pictured) and the Fiji Red Cross provided them with a tent to sleep in. Electricity and the mobile network was restored so we were able to be in touch every day and get a better sense of the situation.

One of our team members Jackie had spread the word among her networks and within 24 hours we had 2 volunteers, Foto and Seema, who were already in Suva and prepared to travel to RakiRaki and spend 3 days locating the remaining 54 Girls and their families and assess their situation.

By Thursday afternoon we knew that 47 were safe, many injured and many without homes, but safe.

By Friday afternoon they had all been located and we had a clearer picture.

8 have lost homes, some have been hospitalised with injuries, other have been treated by medical teams and sent back to evacuation centres or makeshift homes in tents and under tarpaulins // The sisters pictured here have lost their home and the one on the left has a deep laceration to her right arm from flying debri during the cyclone. But they are smiling.

Sisters (2)

Every Girl we support has been impacted. Every home is damaged, there is debri and rubbish everywhere, clean water and food are still not readily available and all the mums we support with small business will need to start again.

So here’s what we are doing and how you can be involved:

1. We have a general appeal which we will draw funds from to respond as needs are assessed. For example, we sent money over this week to purchase water, solar lights, medical supplies and other emergency items, which Urmila identified were needed. Click here to give to these sorts of needs.

2. Our great friends the German International School Sydney have an appeal open to rebuild Urmila’s house! Go to this link to give.

3. I will be trekking across Fiji’s beautiful interior in May, raising funds to support life getting back to normal. So, Girls back to school, phone credit for mums to re-establish businesses, travel passes, books, uniforms etc. If you would like to help me do that as I walk across Viti Levu, please click here.

100% of the money you give will go to the community of RakiRaki to help them rebuild their lives. They will have a voice in how this needs to happen and we will be guided by them.

We said last week that {Our edge is in hearing that someone needs their glasses replaced, or their prescription medication filled, or some pots for cooking. We are there and listening and ready to act} – Larger organisations, the military and the Fiji Government will attend to infrastructure and do the big stuff, we’re there to fill in the gaps.

We are so grateful to Foto and Seema for their time this week, and to so many others // Neel who offered to get in his truck and find the Girls this weekend if needed, GLEAM, another organisation supporting Girls in the Pacific who donated $500, Georgie, the photographer who found us online and will travel to RakiRaki from New Zealand this week to capture this journey towards recovery – and everyone else who has come alongside and been so generous.

THANK YOU!

In solidarity with our friends and the community we work with,

Jane for team ‘ a Girl & her world’

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The Road from Raw to Resilient

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This week has been personal for our team. We are aching for our friend, our ‘a Girl & her world’ Coordinator Urmila and her family who have  experienced great trauma. They’ve lost everything – home, livelihoods, animals, possessions – and are hurt, covered in lacerations and bruises.

You can read below to get a sense of how this has affected us so deeply but also how you can help.

Urmila described how terrified she was the night of February 20 when cyclone Winston made landfall in her community. She told us of walls falling in on her, how she was pinned underneath her collapsed home for hours with a crushed hand and cuts from broken glass. The details are still coming to light, but hers is one of many accounts of fear, physical pain and loss.

We have been overwhelmed by the images we are seeing in the news of a community we are so familiar with and have grown to love. We are concerned that we have only been able to account for 6 Girls out of 60.

We are anxious to walk the road from raw to resilient, but it still feels like a steep climb. 

Urmila and her family are in an evacuation centre with 15 other families, including 5 of the Girls we support (we have seen a media image of a 6th Girl and so know she is safe). They have limited sanitation, electricity, water and provisions and as of Saturday afternoon, still, had not been attended to by disaster teams. They have been able to access food and the most seriously injured have been taken to the barely functioning hospital by other community members, but it is fair to say RakiRaki has been devastated and people are desperate.

The death toll is still rising as assessment teams make their way out and 65,000 people across the country remain in evacuation centres across Fiji. 12,000 of them are in the Ra district surrounding RakiRaki, were 8 people have died and many more are injured. Emergency services are stretched and people are vulnerable.

And yet I hear strength in Urmila’s voice. She is beginning her healing process by helping others and I know she will rise strong. Just this morning she was organising Government supplies to be distributed to the families she is sheltering with.

Here’s what we plan to do and how you can be involved:

1. We have a general appeal which we will draw funds from to respond as needs are assessed. For example, we sent money over this week to purchase food and medical supplies and other emergency items, which Urmila identified that she and the people in the evacuation centre needed. These funds will be spent to help Urmila and the families of the Girls we support. Click here to give.

2. Our great friends the German International School Sydney have an appeal open to rebuild Urmila’s house during their group trip in May and re-establish livelihoods for the mums of the Girls we work with. Go to this link to give.

3. I had already planned (and started training for) a trek across Fiji in May. This is still happening and I will be raising funds to get the Girls back to school. I want to contribute to life returning to normal and supporting schools to make this happen as well. If you would like to help me do that as I walk across Viti Levu, please click here.

100% of the money you give will go to the community of RakiRaki to help them rebuild their lives. They will have a voice in how this needs to happen and we will be guided by them, linking in with any Government services and other NGOs working in the area.

*Our edge is in hearing that someone needs their glasses replaced, or their prescription medication filled, or some pots for cooking. We are there and listening and ready to act*                                                                                       Vlad pic

So with your generosity, we will help people rebuild // support livelihoods // get Girls back to school and grab the hands of the ones who fall through the cracks.

The lesson I am somehow still always surprised to learn from people in times of great sadness and trauma, is that we are so much stronger, so very much more resilient than we know.

The capacity of the human heart is vast. That we can hold shock, grief, compassion and empathy, joy even, at the same time, is a mystery.

Photo credit Vlad Sokhin for Unicef.

Working in the aid sector, I have found, is not for the faint of heart. 12 years ago when I ventured in, I will admit I was lured by the exotic otherness of it all, the adventure, the escape from the mundane. But the work becomes personal and overseas partners, often from people groups who may be marginalised, oppressed or disadvantaged, become friends. Life takes on new colour and flavour; we grow – I have been given the gift of seeing through a different lens.

In the ‘a Girl & her world’ story, Urmila and I met through common work in Fiji, then later when I moved back to Sydney, we stayed friends and our little NGO grew out of her own need and then resourcefulness. IMG_6391

Her daughter needed to stay in school, she saw others whose daughters needed to stay in school and so it began. The alternative was no longer ok. Too many smart, sassy girls with potential to live lives very different than their mothers and grandmothers, were dropping out, being married or working as housegirls at 14.

And so a few Girls being supported to get back to school grew into 60. A few honey bee boxes and veggie gardens for mums grew into income generating projects with training that attracted corporate donors. We employed Urmila, built relationships with local schools and networks. What a difference 5 years can make. We are on a journey together.

In solidarity with our friends and the community of RakiRaki,

Jane for team ‘a Girl & her world’

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