From her perch on a pile of bricks, Makarita Racani watches a group of men hammer at the wooden skeleton of a house.

It’s not unusual to see Makarita sitting near the building site in the centre of Nukubalavu, a village on Fiji’s northern island of Vanua Levu. Since construction began a few weeks ago, the 79-year-old has kept a close eye on the builders, and with good reason - the house they are building is her new home.

"There was nothing left for us."

Makarita’s house, along with several others in the village, was destroyed when Tropical Cyclone Winston swept through in February 2016. It was the strongest cyclone ever recorded to hit Fiji.

Makarita and her daughter Lusiana could only watch as waves swept in by the cyclone washed away their home and all their belongings. A year later, the pair is still living in temporary accommodation, Lusiana says.

“When the wind came, it was devastating because it destroyed everything. There was nothing left for us.”

Building safer, stronger homes

With no house to return to, Lusiana and Makarita slept in the village’s old church with four other families left homeless by the cyclone, until a small temporary shelter could be constructed for Makarita. The shelter is only big enough for her mother, so Lusiana has been staying with other families in the village.

But not for much longer. The two will soon move into a new home – the one Makarita has been watching come together in Nukubalavu – only a few metres from where their old house once stood.

The new house is a “core shelter”, a demonstration house built by Fiji Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Constructed under a Build Back Better scheme, the house is one of a series of core shelters being built in the worst-hit villages, as a training exercise to show other villagers how to rebuild their homes to be safer and better with materials they have bought with the Government’s Help for Homes scheme.

The new houses are being built to withstand future cyclones, and the recipients are chosen by the whole village.

As soon as she heard Red Cross would help to rebuild their home, Lusiana ran to tell her mother the good news. Makarita hasn’t left the building site since, she says.

She never dreamed that Red Cross would come and build a new home for her and she’s very happy with it. Yesterday morning she was touring the house and she was telling herself, oh, I really love my home. It’s a big house, a good house. All I have to say is thank you. There’s nothing else but thank you.

Feeling safe again

Fiji Red Cross Society volunteer Josevata Laqere has been helping construct the house in Nukubalavu, and believes the structure of the new building will help Makarita and Lusiana feel safe again.

“They know they can stay in a house that is nicely built and can withstand winds.”

Fiji Red Cross and IFRC plan to build 35 core shelters across Fiji.