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Hope for Koro islanders

Shalveen Chand
Monday, September 26, 2016

A SMALL restroom goes a long way. For the past two months, that is what the volunteers of international charity organisation All Hands Volunteers have been doing on the island of Koro.

Building sanitary toilets is not only giving back normalcy to the people of Koro but also putting a stop to the spread of diseases that could be borne if the proper disposal of human waste is not done.

Needless to state that among the things taken by Tropical Cyclone Winston from those affected in Koro was access to a clean and safe toilet.

After an assessment of the situation and keeping in mind not to duplicate the assistance already provided by various governments and non-government agencies, the idea to build toilets for the people of Koro was taken up.

Right from the bottom, the volunteers from the United States of America, Japan, Guam, Germany, Netherlands, Poland and even Fiji, started work by digging the foundation for septic tanks.

This task was very much manual as electricity and machinery were not on the island. Shovels, crowbars and pickaxes were used.

Then the foundation was laid and finished with a structure made of wooden frame and corrugated iron as walls.

Everything happened manually and at times was a challenge for the many who even had to use a hand saw for the first time. But that all did not matter when they completed their labour of love, and witnessed the gratitude on the faces of those who were helped.

Edyta Materka was born in a Polish village before her family moved to the US. For her, being on Koro was almost like going to a place similar to a lifestyle back in her home village.

"I am very happy to be here. This reminds me of the little Polish village where I was born especially with the lifestyle here," she said.

"But above all, here on this island are a group of people who after one of the strongest storms in the world are finding how to live life by enjoying the small and simpler things in life.

"To the world it may be just a toilet, but to them it means a lot more."

The spread of pathogens and diseases was well controlled but the fact remained that for many people on the island, there were very few working toilets. All Hands Volunteers found out that the ratio of toilets to people was almost 1:40. The new toilet project aimed to decrease the number to 1:10 or even less.

Australian volunteer Eli Mocsay said their work was more about giving hope and they enjoyed the work even more when the villagers pitched in.

"They would come and help us dig the septic tanks as well with whatever tool they had. But soon as that was done, we put the strapping in, the timber, the noggings, and made it as steady as possible. We tried to make it look lovely and new, we were trying to give hope more than anything," Mr Mocsay said.

"To some people a toilet's just a toilet, this showed the locals that we cared and these were people who came from all around the world, certain people actually cried because they were so happy that there were people who would do these things for them.

"It's one of the most basic needs and it's to do with health reasons. If you have a village of 300 people who're going to the river, or anywhere to relieve themselves, and if you have kids playing around or if you prepare their food close to the area, that is not going to make them any better.

"So after the disaster we tried to see that there were not going to be more things that would be troublesome afterwards. Once the storm or waters came in, and that's polluted, we were trying to minimise all the health issues as well.

"Organisation are coming to do that as well, with clean water lines, making sure that the water lines are fixed so that there's no leakage and there's maximum use of clean water as well but being one of the first NGOs in, the team was doing temporary toilets. And if we are near the beach, we put coral in there just to clean it up.

"It is amazing that with such a basic thing like a toilet, you can help improve the lives of people so much."

Being on the island for more than a month has rubbed off well on the Australian.

"I personally knew nothing of the project, for me it was like 'I am going to Fiji for two weeks and I am going to sign up with these guys and find out what volunteer work is about.'

"Now I have been here for a month and a half, I extended my stay because I fell in love with the kind of work that is being done here. This is much better than paid work any day," he said.

"Village life is amazing. Comparing with life in Australia which is a first world country, out here it is life on a more relaxed pace even compared with Suva. I personally like it here.

"We get to shower under the stars every night, we get to live in tents and there is no stress or worries out here.

"People are on horses, there are very few trucks going around.

"It is a nice simple life out here."

It may be just a toilet but for the long run, it is a way of safely relieving themselves and ensuring that more problems do not arise for aggrieved islanders who after TC Winston were slowly proving that they indeed were stronger than Winston.

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