THOUGH Tropical Cyclone Evan wreaked havoc and devastation in Fiji, it also brought out the best in human spirit as local and foreign volunteers joined hands to get the country back on its feet.
This was especially true for a group of people in Ra as volunteers from Australia and New Zealand came together to rebuild after TC Evan.
The boys' dormitory at the Navunibitu Catholic School near Naiserelagi Village felt the full brunt of the cyclone, losing the roof of a toilet block.
Youths from the village as well as nearby Nabalabala and Vunisea villages arrived after Christmas to join high school and university students from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth in Australia and Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch in New Zealand, to repair the damage before the school year begins.
The volunteers were from a range of educational groups, all associated with the Catholic prelature of Opus Dei.
Co-ordinator Sam Fancourt, a New Zealander living in Melbourne, said similar projects were organised every year and this time the cyclone just happened to hit before they arrived.
"It certainly changed our plans," Mr Fancourt said.
"We don't have power here yet and it's a new experience for the guys.
"We decided to focus on the most damaged parts of the village and hopefully make them a little stronger for next time."
The group came to work and also to learn the Fijian way of life and culture.
All students paid their own way and contributed towards the purchase of work materials and tools.
Parish priest Father Petero Mataca said he was grateful for the help.
"It's also been a great experience for our youths to be with the volunteers," Fr Petero said.
He said the visitors could learn a few things from the Fijians such as simplicity of life, and vise versa.
"When the Aussies and Kiwis went to bed last night at 10pm, I told the youths — take note, that's to make good use of time," he said.
Gerard Trolove, a builder's apprentice from Christchurch, was in charge of carpentry on the site.
He said it was a new challenge to work sporadically and use the generator for the power tools.
"It's a bit like Kiwi ingenuity going head to head with Fiji time and the Fiji way of life," he said.
Sainivalati Bavou from Nabalabala has been living and working with the group since December, and has been learning from Gerard.
"I've learnt a lot from these people and their countries but it's also fun to teach them some Fijian words and phrases," he said.
The local youths have been cooking as well as washing clothes and the visitors say they feel spoilt. Tim Helbano, a year 13 prefect at St Patricks in Wellington, said it was great to experience the "real Fiji".
"The hospitality and warmth of people here is amazing. They cook delicious meals, clean our clothes and look after us and they are so happy to do it," Mr Helbano said.
Jacob Fransen, 15, from St Johns College in Hamilton was the youngest volunteer.
He said the highlight was working so close to the historic church and being able to grow in his faith.
"Being able to live out my faith here and help the village at the same time has been wonderful," he said.
"We had a late vigil Mass for the New Year and then celebrated with kava and singing and dancing, despite all the rain."
Raphael Adeloju, an accounting and finance graduate from Melbourne, said the local culture had impressed him.
"People here have less and yet they are willing to give us so much. The generosity is impressive and they are so happy — we can learn from this in Australia and New Zealand," Mr Adeloju said.
"Culturally it's been great. We enjoyed the sevusevu, although kava really is an acquired taste.
"It's something I'll never regret to have done."
The group is aiming to complete the project by Friday before returning home.