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I arrived in Suva days after Cyclone Winston tore through Fiji, destroying entire villages and leaving thousands of people homeless.
As a psychological first aid trainer, it’s my job to ensure affected communities get the emotional support they need. After a cyclone, it’s easy to see the physical damage – the trees ripped out of the ground, the houses destroyed, the villages flattened. What’s harder to see is the emotional damage, which can also have a huge impact on people’s recovery.
The villages destroyed by Cyclone Winston are not just structures of wood and iron. They’re the homes people live their lives in, the places where families have built memories, the classrooms where children play with their friends. For many, the loss of these familiar buildings and social spaces will be distressing and disorienting.
So, while others are busy repairing buildings and restoring water supplies, I’m working with Fiji Red Cross to make sure people have access to emotional support and community networks, to help them get through. This is the ‘talanoa’ model, providing a listening ear and an opportunity for communal conversation and comfort.
Often we’re out in the heat, travelling to villages to provide outreach, or debriefing the teams working in remote areas. We spend a lot of time training volunteers, who are then able to provide local support in their own communities. Many of the volunteers have been badly impacted themselves, losing homes and in some cases livelihoods. Yet they’re out there day after day, helping their communities.
We’re hoping Red Cross’ psychosocial support will help them continue this inspiring work.
Much of what we’re doing has come from the Christchurch earthquake response. Red Cross was there for Cantabrians from day one, and five years on, we have learnt a lot about the emotional and social impact of a disaster. We’re using those lessons here, on the ground in Fiji, to help after Cyclone Winston.
We plan to reach 20,000 people in Fiji with psychosocial support. Because for those caught up in a disaster – whether it’s an earthquake in Christchurch or a cyclone in the Pacific – the road to recovery often starts when they have the chance to tell their story, to someone who will listen with care and understanding.