When disaster hits, solesolevaki fights back

December 4, 2020

Villagers of Nabukelevu-i-ra village farewelling the UN- Fiji Government Delegation. 120 households were recipients of the TC Harold recovery cash assistance (Photo: UNDP/Luis Gamarra)

Taking our place in the solesolevaki web

Nabukelevu i-ra village located on the south western side of Kadavu with 120 households is nestled  at the foot of Mount Washington and was awoken by thunder like sounds caused by a 5.3 magnitude earthquake in 2019. Villagers know too well how a disaster can cause devastation. They encountered Tropical Cyclone (TC) Keni in 2018, TC Sarai in 2019, followed by TC Harold in 2020 and now the impact of COVID-19. The latter have caused the return of former workers in the hotel industry to Nabukelevu -i-ra due to job losses. Yet amid these disasters and associated hardship, we witnessed Kadavu’s resilient spirit solidified through the traditional concept of “solesolevaki”.

This was the first joint visit by the United Nations (UN) and the Fiji Government delegation to (TC) Harold and COVID-19 impacted areas in Kadavu.

Living in the Pacific, we know first-hand the effects of a disaster and how it can offset and negate progress and development. For some communities, the road to a state of complete recovery takes time due to the geographical location and community isolation and some are caught in prolonged period of recovery. With only 10 years remaining to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) 2015- 2030, we in the Pacific must take on extra measures to respond effectively to changes in climate and the increased occurrence of natural hazards. Disaster risks must be reduced so communities can bounce back.

UN Resident Representative Mr Sanaka Samarasinha and Fijis Roving Amabassador, Mr Amena Yauvoli meet with Vunisea market vendors. (Photo: UNDP/Andrea Waqa-Montu)

UN and Fiji government discussions with Nabukelevu-i-ra villagers. (Photo: UNDP/Andrea Waqa-Montu)

Apisalome Mavono and Susanne Becken
said, “One such structure that can contribute to the collective good, community wellbeing, and quality of life for iTaukei (indigenous Fijians) is solesolevaki, a means whereby people can work together for the common good without expectation of individual payment. Solesolevaki draws upon social capital, entails indigenous values and ethos.”

It is the spirit of ‘solesolevaki’ that brought villagers based in the capital Suva and abroad to contribute to the rehabilitation and reconstruction in Kadavu. In the same spirit of solesolevaki, development partners are also part of the solesolevaki web with timely interventions that have met community needs. Various UN agencies contributed to the disaster relief and response phase including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which joined the disaster recovery phase.

When a disaster hits, infrastructure, livelihoods, food security is affected, and families are relocated. If we sit back and unpack the consequences of a disaster, they all infringe and pull away at the seams of UN SDGs – Poverty, Education, Health, Zero Hunger. This is enough fuel to drive development partners and community as a whole to band together to ensure help is given so communities do not fall back further into poverty and to call for more Climate Action.

To ensure no one is left behind, decision making process needs to be inclusive of the participation of women, children, persons living with a disability and the elderly.  

Ms Sainiana Vunitilo, leader for the Nabukelevu- i-ra, Soqosoqo Vakamarama, Methodist Church women’s group said the group have not been able to earn an income from the weaving of handicraft because of the damages caused by TC Harold and the COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“Children till today still fear the sounds of the winds as it takes them back to when TC Harold visited. Thanks to the support from UNDP, life is getting better,” said Ms Vunitilo. 

Sainiana Vunitilo, Radini Turaga ni Koro and Leader of the Soqosoqo Vakamarama in Nabukelevu village. (UNDP: Andrea Waqa-Montu)

"We face a lot of difficulties as a group, we used to participate in shows where we earn money from weaving and handicraft. When the cyclone came and the COVID-19 pandemic, it became difficult for us, travel was restricted, large gatherings were also not allowed,” said Ms. Vunitilo.  

With source of livelihood destroyed, and debts to be settled, Ms Vunitilo and many other families in Kadavu were relieved with the timely distribution of cash voucher assistance enabling families to purchase food from the local village cooperative as well settle debts at the village cooperative.

26-year-old, Ms Lita Cavalevu worked for one of the five-star resorts in Nadi for six years. In April this year, due to COVID-19, Cavalevu lost her job and moved back to Nabukelevu-ira with her six children.

Ms Cavalevu said “It has been tough, I can’t deny it’s been really tough, especially being in the city and re-adjusting to village life, it is also hard here in the village, adjusting to this lifestyle, but we are pulling through. Harold came and it hasn’t dampened our spirit so with the aid we have been receiving, we received $100 per family, that has really helped a lot, especially with my kids, with toddlers that need to be fed. I am thankful to ADRA, UNDP RESPAC and the government of Fiji and Australia.”

Officer-in-Charge at the UNDP Pacific Officer in Fiji then, Nasantuya Chuluun said “More and more, we witness how resilient the people of Fiji and especially the people of Kadavu.”

Ms. Chuluun who was part of the mission added “despite the disasters, despite all the adversities, which you experienced earlier this year, you were able to rise to the occasion. We are calling the motto of this mission building Kadavu resilience.” 

To support this solesolevaki, UNDP has provided power tools for housing construction to all tikinas in Kadavu and initiated four technical training courses in collaboration with the Fiji National University. Courses provided will cover design and implement small solar micro-grids, plumbing, carpentry and small engine repair and maintenance.

UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji Operations Advisor, Nasantuya Chuluun (Photo: UNDP)

RESPAC Project Team (Photo: UNDP)

Two courses, Digital Literacy Essentials and Communication technologies for Business Success are also being offered free to Tourism and Hospitality sector staff who suffered job losses as a result of COVID-19.  The training is a COVID-19 response and collaboration by the UNDP the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) with Tourism agencies in Fiji, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

Three days travelling the dirt roads of Kadavu and visiting villages, some only accessible by boat; experiencing life with very little or no internet connection and lights powering down at 10pm was a reality refresher for us city dwellers. It didn’t take long to re-adjust and experience the best Kadavu had to offer, leading with the warm welcome and embrace of the people. Yet, behind the image of paradise, the crystal aqua waters, the crisp fresh morning breeze with majestic views, behind the pristine surrounding silhouetted by the beautiful sunsets, are stories of struggles, gratitude and resilience. We all need to find our place in the solesolevaki web and help those at risk of falling behind.

UNDP in collaboration with the Government of Fiji and the Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA Fiji) is implementing the Fiji TC Harold Early Recovery Project in severely devasted communities in Kadavu, Lau and Vatulele focusing on Debris and Waste Management, Community Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Cash Programming to support livelihoods including food security.

76 communities, 2506 households in Kadavu benefitted from Cash programming through the Livelihood Support Programme. The TC Harold support is administered through the Russian funded UNDP Disaster Resilience for Pacific Small Island States (RESPAC) project with funding support from the Australian Government and the Government of Fiji.

For more information contact:

UNDP Disaster Risk Management Advisor and RESPAC Project Manager, Noud Leenders, email: noud.leenders@undp.org

RESPAC Communications Specialist, Andrea Waqa–Montu,
email: andrea.waqa-montu@undp.org