Cash for Work Brings Smiles to Cyclone-battered Villages, Helps Speed Up Massive Debris Cleaning

May 25, 2016

Disoro (sitting) putting together a broom outside her makeshift house in Nacamaki in Koro Island (Photo: UNDP)

Koro Island, Fiji: Three months after Tropical Cyclone Winston, Disoro Elenoa, 57, a small-time broom-maker of Nacamaki can hardly help tears well up in her eyes as she focuses on the more urgent business of putting together a bundle of brooms that she sends every week for sale in the markets of Suva. “For all my life, making brooms from the coconut leaves is all that I have done. They are sturdy and used to sell well in the markets in Suva”, Disoro says. With the cyclone, the coconut leaves that were abundant around the village, have withered and for women of Nacamaki, the business of broom-making has suffered a great deal.

For years, Disoro sent 10 brooms and five bags of coconut fruit – each bag contains 100 shells – every week for selling to the market vendors in Suva. She would make up to 200 Fijian dollars a week, a decent income for the frugal lifestyle on the island. Ever since Cyclone Winston brought ruin to the farm produce, Disoro found her income disappear. “There is hardly any usable coconut leaves around and it has taken me a month to put together just five brooms”. A single mother,  she and her family fell on bad days. Their home on the edge of Nacamaki village destroyed and rendered penniless by the cyclone, the family was bracing for a long spell of hard times.

Home GardenNonika at her backyard home garden in Nacamaki in Koro Island (Photo: UNDP/Kumar M Tiku)

That was when her son Paloto Waqa and daughter-in-law Nonika Rainibogi signed up as volunteers for the Cash for Work (CfW) initiative. A project initiated in the eight severely affected villages on Koro Island by the Fijian Ministry of Youth and Sports in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the local youth communities, the CfW idea is anchored in the objective of mobilizing youth for speeding up village level debris clean-up and instilling among the villagers an ensuring sense of waste management. All with the purpose of catalysing an early recovery of the communities from the catastrophic consequences of the cyclone.

Nonika, 30, a mother of five and one of the CfW volunteers from Nacamaki, says, “Until just a few weeks back, there was debris everywhere. We did not know what to make of it, or indeed how to deal with it. When the Government and UNDP came to the village to help us mobilize village youth as volunteers in the task of cleaning up our villages, that was the beginning of a new journey of knowing and learning that debris and waste can be dealt with in a meaningful way. Little did we realize that we were sitting on a toxic dump if we continued with our practice of piling all debris together and putting it on fire. And see what a neat picture this village makes for, now that we have learnt to deal with the debris”, Nonika says with a discernible sense of accomplishment. 

Over 270 youth from eight villages of Koro Island signed up for the CfW project for debris clearance. Over 2000 people in Nacamaki, Tuatua, Nasau, Naqaidamu, Sinuvaca, Namacu, Nakodu and Mudu have benefited from the initiative, with significant amount of different kinds of debris and waste is being sorted and neatly piled in the villages and farm-lands. The youth volunteers received training in waste management as well as working tools and personal protection equipment to get the work done. These included wheelbarrows, hammers, shovels and the bar cutters. 

Malakai Salabula, 52, the Turaga ni Koro or the village chief, says prior to Cyclone Winston, the village community has had no formal training in disaster preparedness. “We never thought a cyclone as devastating as Cyclone Winston will very hit our village. Except for a storm surge here and there, Koro Island had remained largely untouched by the big cyclones. Until Winston happened and washed away everything that we ever had”. 

“With the training we learnt to separate the debris and re-use”, says Vuladromu, 27, a mother of two and a CfW youth volunteer in Tuatua village. “As you go around the village, you can now see the concrete waste separated from stacks of timber waste and scrap iron roof sheets sitting together on a separate pile. Then there is plastic and electronic waste that we will sort and look to use as we rebuild our homes. The waste goes into the big garbage bags that have been placed at prominent and easily accessible sites in the village, but away from the makeshift habitation”.

“With the concrete waste we will all help make a temporary sea wall to keep the next storm at bay. As for the lethal corrugated iron roofing waste, we have used much of the usable sheets to fence our home gardens”, says Salabula.  

For Koini Kaitani, 30, a volunteer from Nasau village, the debris-clearance training helped the community in starting their home-gardens for ensuring a ready supply of vegetables. “You can see so many home gardens around the village that have planted the cabbage, the long beans, the tomatoes, pumpkin and eggplant. This was possible as were able to clean up our village and prepare the soil for our household nutritional needs”, Kaitani says. 

Kaitani believes the CfW also brought brought about team effort and unity among the village youth. “We now work and coordinate together on debris clean-up. It saves time and effort”, says the mother of two. For Kaitani, a single mother, the CfW was useful as it helped her to pay for essential household needs not covered in the government-supplied rations. Items such as salt, kerosene, matches and diapers for the kids.

The Nacamaki village chief is full of praise for the tireless efforts of the district development officer of Koro Island Filimoni Tegicakibau for bringing a modicum of order into the islanders’ desperate living conditions post-Cyclone Winston. “The iron roofing scrap is getting removed from the village thanks to the district officer’s support. He worked with the Goundar Shipping company that plies a weekly boat sortie between Suva and Koro Island. The company, whose owner hails from our village, was generous to have the roofing scrap loaded onto trucks and shipped to Suva. All at his own cost. We are told that the company has promised to lift the piles of iron scrap from our adjoining villages as well. This will remove a major hazardous waste from our midst”, Salabula observes.

Says David Vunileba, 57, the village spokesman of Mudu, “The Cash for Work initiative came just in time. If we did not have this money we could not even pay for the boat fare to go to Suva to register our names for the Government’s Help for Homes scheme. Now that we received our money, we will make the boat trip to Suva to avail for the housing assistance”.  The scheme gives transitional voucher assistance to the cyclone-affected communities to enable them to purchase house building materials.

Making brooms and weaving mats from voivoi (pandanus) leaves is a staple of the village economy for the women in rural parts of Fiji. In Koro island, the cyclone stole away the women’s economy as the natural produce that they relied on for weaving their crafts has simply disappeared. It will be a while before Disoro and hundreds of women like her in Koro Island will be able to earn a decent living from their farm produce and nature’s abundance around them. “I am happy that for now this cash has helped my son and daughter in law to earn a small sum in lieu of their efforts to clean up our village. What is more, the training in dealing with  hazardous substances in the debris will stay with them for ever”, Disoro notes.

The village-level trainings were organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and UNDP with support of debris management experts from the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency.

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Pacific Office 
Go to UNDP Global