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Tools, tarps and ingenuity

Families in Fiji are starting to rebuild their homes after Cyclone Winston, with a little help from Red Cross.

Thursday March 10, 2016

Fiji family
This is all Cyclone Winston left of Phul's home in Rakiraki. Photo: IFRC/Navneet Narayan

Their four-bedroom house is no longer recognisable, little more than a pile of twisted corrugated iron and splintered timber.  

A tiny shed - now home to 75-year-old Phul and her husband - is all that survived Cyclone Winston.  

"It took everything," says the grandmother, as she and her son sort through the wreckage to salvage useable items. "We've had floods and storms before, but nothing like this. We have to start all over again."  

It is a story repeated all along the coast road leading to the town of Rakiraki in the north of Fiji's main island. When Cyclone Winston made landfall here, hundreds of homes were destroyed, and thousands of people left homeless.  

Many people are still sheltering in evacuation centres here and across the archipelago. Others, like Phul and Suruj, are living in the remnants of their gutted homes or sharing houses with their neighbours.  

Each day they return to their ruined homes to work on the long, difficult process of rebuilding.   

Red Cross is providing the tools they need to start the job:  a one-metre long canvas bag containing a shovel, hoe, hammer, saw, tin-snips, wire and three types of nails. Combined with a couple of tarpaulins and the ingenuity of Fijians, these Red Cross tool kits can be used to build a shelter for a family of five.  

Trained Fiji Red Cross volunteers will distribute tarpaulins and tool kits to more than 4,000 families (20,000 people) in the coming weeks. As well as providing training on how to use the equipment, the volunteers experiment with the kits and share ideas on what is possible.   

"People get really creative with these kits," says Australian shelter specialist Leanne Marshall, who has been training Fiji Red Cross volunteers in Rakiraki.    

"By combining salvaged material, it's possible to make an enclosed space for a family of five, providing a secure space to stay and a foundation from  which to rebuild."  

"When thinking of temporary shelter, people often imagine rows of tents, but that is a single-purpose solution," says the Australian architect. "With tarpaulins and tools you can build what you need and adapt it over time. 

"I've seen water tanks, latrines, and little kitchens appear in the wake of a disaster, as people manipulate the equipment to meet their evolving needs."  

In addition to shelter tools, Red Cross is also distributing simple items that help families keep their health and dignity: soap, toothbrushes, sanitary pads, safe drinking water and more. 

Please help with a tax-deductible donation to the Tropical Cyclone Winston Appeal.