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.
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.
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’