Feb. 20 was the one-year anniversary of Cyclone Winston, the strongest storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. The storm left a trail of devastation across many of Fiji’s 332 islands, killing 44 people and impacting 350,000 others. The total estimated damage reached $1.4 billion.
We wanted to take a look back and share with you how the Rustic Pathways family responded by demonstrating their unconditional support for the people of Fiji. Together, we raised $25,000 in the weeks after the storm. Since then, we’ve raised nearly $10,000 more. Those funds allowed our local staff, with the help of a gap year program, buy and deliver food and supplies to more than 700 community members who had not yet been reached by relief agencies.
We cannot thank you enough for responding to help the people of Fiji after this disaster. The country’s recovery effort is ongoing. Continue reading for a timeline of events in the aftermath of the storm and what you still can do to help.
Cyclone Winston makes landfall with winds in excess of 145 mph, destroying homes, schools, and vital farmland.
Cassie Wright, Rustic’s Fiji Community Impact Manager, said the most startling thing after the storm was how it changed the way Fiji looked.
“The wind destroyed almost all of the palm trees, and blew all of the leaves off of the other trees and plants,” she said. “The villages looked dry and barren, which is a stark contrast to the lush, green paradise that it normally is.”
In our partner community of Somosomo, the cyclone destroyed seven homes and caused severe damage to Gaunavou Primary School, which serves 22 preschoolers and 151 students in grades 1 to 8, in the nearby Yasawa Islands. The storm destroyed five homes in Nasivikoso, where we’ve partnered with the community for more than 20 years. Crops that feed local families and serve as an income source were also destroyed.
Our local staff and 13 South Pacific Ocean Skills gap year students bought and loaded bulk food supplies to deliver Nasivikoso where they were divided equally and distributed to 105 local families. Staff also delivered the food package to 35 families in the Wauosi village. Those included flour, rice, sugar, salt, soya bean oil, dhal (yellow peas), tuna, corned beef, baking powder, tea, and soap.
We secured a barge to transport food and supplies to the remote Yasawa Islands. Our local staff in Somosomo met the barge to offload the food and take it an hour around Naviti Island to the village. In addition to the items delivered to Nasivikoso, families in Somosomo received a few more.
“The village was extremely thankful to have a few of these extra items,” Cassie said. “Some of them mentioned that they hadn’t had toothpaste since before the storm. Little things like that go such a long way when you are as isolated as they are in Somosomo.”
Somosomo received another food and supply delivery because it was hit so hard by the storm and because the village is so remote. Each of the 74 households and 8 school staff from Gaunavou Primary School received a package of everyday staples, dry goods, and fresh vegetables—with bigger households and families living together receiving more.
Nov. 27 to Dec. 3
Rustic and the Rustic Pathways Foundation with assistance from a class traveling from Australia helped install toilet facilities at Guanavou Primary School, since damage to infrastructure was still being repaired after the storm.
There are several ways you can continue to help:
1. Enroll in our Big Fiji Explorer program and assist with the ongoing relief effort in Somosomo.
2. Donate to the Somosomo School construction project through the Rustic Pathways Foundation.
3. Become a Development Ambassador and fundraise for the Somosomo School project.
In addition to the families who continue to rebuild their homes, schools, community centers, and churches, Cassie said the damage the farmland has led to increased prices putting an additional strain on families. She said it could take years for communities to replant what they lost.
“This remains one the biggest impacts that Winston has had on the villages because it will take a long time for these farms to flourish again,” Cassie said.
Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in the Fiji islands and the long-term relationships we partner with.
Andrea has spent her career exploring social impact and sustainable development while working in microfinance, impact investing, philanthropy, education, and tech. Andrea traveled with Rustic Pathways as a high school student in 1997 and has since visited 50+ countries. She holds an MBA in nonprofit management and international development from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, where she was also an adjunct professor in social entrepreneurship, and a BA from UC San Diego. A California native, she has lived in Chile, Guatemala, and Switzerland and considers travel a central component of her happiness.