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Ever ready to help out

Solomoni Biumaiono
Monday, January 14, 2013

When Sara McBride was first asked to come over to Fiji last year and risk spending Christmas alone as she would be leaving her family behind in New Zealand, she did not hesitate one bit.

Why? Because McBride was one of the first people on the ground after Cyclone Evan wreaked havoc in the western side of Viti Levu.

"I got the call on a Tuesday to see if I would come over if I was needed. It was explained to me that I would likely be spending Christmas in Fiji alone and if that was OK. I said that I couldn't imagine a better way to spend my Christmas," McBride said.

When she came over she came through the Christian non-governmental organisation ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) Fiji.

Apart from helping distribute provided food kits and water, sanitation and hygiene kits for 500 families, she also assisted with media and help advocate for support for survivors of Cyclone Evan.

Back home in New Zealand McBride works as a disaster management and disaster science specialist and has been doing so in the last eight years.

Prior to that, she worked in television, public relations and crisis counselling with youths.

"My first university degree is in law and although I don't practice, I find it a helpful degree to have."

But ever since she first started working in the area of disaster management McBride has never felt at home because she has come to learn of the many challenges and heartaches that the affected people go through.

"I love the energy you get from working in challenging environments and the problem solving aspects to it. I don't get easily frustrated and can just keep battling on. I'm pretty comfortable with being uncomfortable and that is important when you work in this field.

"Personally it is very satisfying to help others who need support and comfort during difficult times," she said

Some of the major gut wrenching moments she has to go through was comforting those affected by the Hawaiian floods of 2004, the fatal tsunami that hit Samoa in 2009 and the devastating earthquake that rocked the city of Christchurch in 2011.

Her last response work before she came to Fiji for the Cyclone Evan relief efforts, McBride was part of the Tongariro Volcano response that scared the inhabitants of New Zealand's North Island late last year.

She arrived the day after Cyclone Evan ripped through the western Fiji and witnessed first-hand the destruction left behind by the cyclone which had ripped through Samoa before striking Fiji.

"It (damage) was extensive, especially in Lautoka and Ba areas. The agricultural sector appears to have had significant disruptions to crops, especially breadfruit and taro. This will take some thinking around food security issues long term."

"Homes, especially in settlements, have sustained a considerable amount of damage and will need to be built back better in the future," she added.

McBride spent the next two weeks talking to people in evacuation centres where she listened to their stories and try to gain a better understanding of what their long-term needs are.

"There was a general sense of sadness and disappointment about the cyclone happening so close to the holidays. Many people told me that they were taking leave to enjoy time with family and would now have to spend that time rebuilding their homes and lives," McBride said.

She was impressed with the response from government and its overseas counterparts that pitched in to help as well as NGOs like the Red Cross, ADRA and Rotary in the relief effort.

"Having advanced warning was very helpful in activating evacuation centres and preparing the response.

"It helped that Suva was largely untouched and that transportation networks were still mostly intact. Overall I thought it was a very competent response," McBride said.

When asked if she would like to return and work in Fiji in the future Sara laughed it off and quipped, "Well that's always a double edged sword because it would mean that disaster has struck Fiji and I wouldn't want that to happen! I joke to my friends that I'm like a disaster Mary Poppins.

"But yes, I would like to return to Fiji

to work because I very much

enjoyed my time there."

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