Travelling by boat along the Yasawa’s Fiji this May 2016, we coudn’t help but notice the devastation of Cyclone Winston as we passed each little island. Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Fiji and the South Pacific Basin in recorded history. Each island had varying degrees of devastation with some literally flattened to nothing. Palm trees bent over ninety degrees with the frongs missing, debris spread across beaches and reef systems damaged beyond repair. I was travelling with photographer Ming Nomchong on what was mainly a surf and wildlife trip but after seeing the devastation we began to discuss our interest in helping somehow.
We arrived at Mantaray Island, got settled and headed to the restaurant for dinner which is where fate led us to meet the lovely Belinda Irvine. Belinda is an Aussie living in Fiji and is the sister-in-law of the owner of Manataray Island Resort. Ming also knew the owner so as coincidence we all had dinner together which is where we had the pleasure of learning much more about Belinda.
When Belinda heard that people in the small village of Soso, Fiji, had run out of food after the devastation of Cyclone Winston, she didn’t have to think twice to make a move to help. Close to two months after Cyclone Winston the population of Naviti Island was still struggling to restore its food and water supplies, as well as repair housing, with up to 90% homes damaged in the disaster. Naviti Island is home to seven villages, one settlement, several primary schools and one high school, as well as one of Fiji’s three female chiefs. Belinda immediately started up a GoFundMe page to raise money to deliver food to the community. She decided to set her goal at $10,000, enough to feed Soso Village for a fortnight. But when the page raised $3000 in its first three hours of operation, she added an extra zero to that calculation, to take the goal to $100,000. With the help of her brother-in-law Ryan and his business partner Tina, who own a resort on the islands, Belinda was able to rally together several resorts to provide funds and volunteers. Within just over a week the page had raised $30,000, enough to send a 30 tonne barge full of staple food items, along with a large water tank, to Soso. The Food for Fiji campaign raised over $80,000 and the remainder of the funds were allocated to food and water projects across the entire Naviti Island, the island Soso is located on, three hours north of city Nadi.
Over dinner we expressed our interest in helping to Belinda and by chance she told us that they would be delivering a barge of supplies the following day. We of course jumped at the opportunity.
The following day we all woke early and jumped on a small tinny and made our way to Naviti Island to meet the barge that was coming from Nadi. Our little tinny was definitely not fit for what the ocean was delivering that day. Everyone in the boat was drenched but in high spirits as we arrived safely at the Soso Village. All of the villages on Naviti had gathered at Soso and were waiting for our arrival. It would have to be one of the surrealist moments of my life. Seeing the obvious devastation to their small village and the hundreds of locals excited and very thankful for our arrival. We spent the entire day unloading the barge with help from the locals and under the supervision and organisation of the amazing Belinda Irvine. Our small crew of six Aussie’s managed to put a smile on hundreds of Fijian faces that day. Still one of the best days of my life.
To find out more or to donate to the Food for Fiji campaign, visit www.gofundme.com/foodforfiji