Donations. A whopping community effort that raised just over $25,000 for Fiji following Cyclone Winston in February has had a heartwarming ending.
Trevor and Marian Spinks, whose daughter Courtney McIntyre initiated the Smithton street stall fundraiser earlier this year, have returned from Fiji after distributing the local funds to affected townships.
Up until the couple’s departure, individuals and local churches were still handing over donations to be sent to those in Fiji.
“We had no idea of the enormity of the task until we began to talk to people over there and then witnessed the destruction ourselves, even though it was weeks after Winston’s visit,” Trevor and Marian say.
One main area of damage was in the Ra province, a hilly rural area serviced by a small town called Rakiraki. This is primarily a crop growing area, with root crops and sugar the main sources of incomes for local families.
“As we approached the area, we noticed pockets of homes with blue tarps on roofs, which quickly became almost every home in some form of repair.
“There was evidence of many organisations’ help, such as UNICEF tents, and AusAID tents at schools, with children sweltering inside.
“Sometimes we just stopped and talked with folk and heard dreadful stories of fear and hard-to-believe acts of nature.
“The local couple we took with us spoke of how nothing had changed much in the weeks that had lapsed. [There had been] very few repairs and people [were] despairing.
“Government food was distributed very uncaringly with some getting heaps and others missing out completely.”
So the Spinks wondered how they could help.
“The government is giving vouchers for folk to rebuild but supplies are very scarce and people have no money to pay freight . . . if they receive a voucher.
“It was, for us, an emotional and exhausting experience and we spent a lot of time speaking with people and began to make decisions on how we could best spend the money we had been entrusted with.”
And so this is how it was spent:
• Immediate repair and providing tin and timber to give temporary shelter for a widow’s home to accommodate her and seven family members, who were sleeping in four-hour shifts under a tarp in the remains of their shanty
• Provision of building materials for a village shop that is housing five families
• Tin for an isolated family in a little shanty who lost everything
• Repairs on five large community centres, where people who had lost their homes were sheltering
• Many boxes of food
• Seeds and plants to re-establish gardens
• Two computers for relocated students, plus uniforms and resettlement costs
• Hammers, saws, nails, levels, pliers
• Freight costs for tonnes of clothing and a large amount of donated medical supplies.
This help was provided thanks to the generosity of local community members, say Trevor and Marian.
“People were asking us to thank the people of Tasmania.
“All this is just a drop in the ocean, but every drop helps.
“It was a privilege for us to be involved on your behalf and we thank you for trusting us.”
The Fijian people were very appreciative of the level of support received from the Australian government following the cyclone. This has been passed on to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, through member for Braddon, Brett Whiteley.
An extract from a letter from Apete Tanoa, a Fijian local
“On behalf of the many families that have been reaching out to and helping during and after the cyclone, [we] wish to convey our heartfelt and sincere appreciation for all the generosity and kind heartedness you, the good people of Tassie have been extending to us through these times.
“In spite of the natural disasters and adverse circumstances of your own that we see in the news in times [passed] and as well as recently, you (Tassie people) have always had a heart of compassion and a dare to reach out and be there for us and our people in our times of need.
“Furthermore, we have witnessed on a national level how your government came in and assisted us immediately after the cyclone. No other nation could equal what your government did.
“I would say (putting aside all the political gimmicks) that, this is an indication of the true spirit of its people.”