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Only a few days before Tropical Cyclone Winston tore across Fiji, Seru Sevutia was sitting in a disaster preparedness and response training session.
He knew the training would be useful for his work as a Red Cross volunteer, but he didn’t think he would have to put it into practice so soon.
“The training was that week. On Saturday, Winston came,” he remembers.
Tropical Cyclone Winston was the strongest cyclone ever recorded in Fiji. Forty-four people died and almost half of the country’s population was impacted when it hit in February 2016. In Seru’s village, Naserelagi, only three houses survived undamaged.
When the storm cleared, Seru immediately started to help his neighbours in Naserelagi. He then spent three months with a Red Cross volunteer team in Rakiraki, one of the worst-hit areas.
Red Cross was able to deliver much-needed relief items, but taking time to listen to people was also important, Seru says.
For 25 years they’ve been working to build their house and it’s just taken away in 24 hours. It’s all about communicating, allowing people to open up about what they’ve been through.
A year on from the cyclone, Red Cross is still working across Fiji, helping affected communities rebuild and recover.
Seru, now Red Cross’ Rakiraki branch administrator, is helping Red Cross rebuild Vunikavikaloa Arya School, not far from Naserelagi.
The school was badly damaged during the cyclone, so classes have been housed in tents for the past year.
Fiji Red Cross and New Zealand Red Cross are working together to rebuild the school as part of the Government’s Adopt a School project, and are also delivering disaster preparedness education in the community.
Seru says working on the school can be hard work, but it’s also rewarding. It’s this that has kept him involved in the organisation since he first volunteered two years ago.
“When I got this glimpse of what Red Cross is about, I really loved it. From that time until today, I still enjoy what I’m doing. I love doing this work with the community.”