Rebuilding Hope After a Disaster through Employment and Education
When one of the most devastating tropical cyclones tore through Fiji, many people felt hopeless and broken. Countless people lost their homes and even more heartbreakingly their families.
It seems like there wasn’t one person on this island, somehow directly or closely in touch, whose world did not get flipped upside down because of the natural disaster.
I travelled to the northeast region of the main island Viti Levu and visited a community that was close to one of the main sugar mills of Fiji. As some background information, if there was one thing I quickly learned about the Fijian economy and industry, it was that the sugarcane sector had a long-standing importance in the country.
When One Door Closes…
When the cyclone struck, the sugar mill was destroyed and to this day remains abandoned. With many families relying on the employment of the sugar mill, people were not only left without a home, they were left without work.
After the cyclone, the sugarcane mill closed their doors permanently – ultimately the costs were too high to rebuild the mill or even tear it down.
This isn’t a story (entirely) about the devastating remains of a natural disaster, but instead a story of rebuilding a life and finding new opportunities for work (employment) through education.
I met with a man who seems timid, even shy, at first and probably not someone who could immediately open up about his story. As we started to speak, his calm and quiet demeanor grew into a quiet confidence and he told me how his life was transformed.
He continued to speak, reserved but not hesitant. This man was a truck driver for the sugar mill for over 20 years. His father worked for the mill and his grandfather worked for the mill.
He explained that he didn’t even give it much thought before he realized he too was working for the mill without considering his interests or personal motivations.
I asked him how he felt when he found out both his home and the sugarcane mill were destroyed. He replied and said:
“I felt bad. For more than 20 years I have been working for the mill. I felt sad… because I don’t know what would happen next.”
It saddened me to hear this but the story shifted with the devasting natural disaster that took away his job and many others.
…Another Door Opens
After the mill closed down, Australia-Pacific Technical College provided opportunities for the people of the villages to move into new professions. He took this opportunity to learn about carpentry and construction. Not only did his life change, his family’s life changed with this chance at a new career.
“The education, it changed me. Not only me but for my family. I want my kids to study, too.”
I asked him if he had the choice to go back to his old job, would he go back to the mill or continue with his new opportunities. He replied and said, “No, I don’t want to go back. I want to continue to learn.”
Building a Future
The story comes in a circle in a very moving way when he was able to apply his new knowledge and skills to build a new home for his sister.
Education became a medium to create new employment opportunities, and those new employment opportunities helped to rebuild and support the community transition into a new life.