The wrath of TC Yasa takes down schools, homes & livelihoods, but not Virisila’s spirit

Tropical Cyclone Yasa devastates families and children, leaving them without access to basic supplies.

Zubnah Khan
Virisila Rokocinono, 16, washes clothes at a small creek after Tropical Cyclone Yasa hit her island home and left them with no water supply.
UNICEFPacific/2020/Stephen
31 December 2020

Lekutu, Fiji – About fifteen minutes along the gravel, dusty road from the main road in Lekutu, Bua Province, we reached the end where two small motorboats were waiting to take us to Tavea Island, a twelve-minute sea journey.

A small team of UNICEF and Ministry of Health and Medical Services staff had embarked on a journey to reach out to the most affected people, including children, after a category five Tropical Cyclone Yasa showed its strength in Fiji just before the Christmas season.

It was during this wait near the small motorboats for the Turaga ni Koro (traditional village Headman of Tavea Island) to formally accept and take us to his island home that we came across a group of children washing clothes and bathing in a small creek.

We met Virisila Rokocinono, a sixteen-year-old girl at this creek. She is also the third eldest child of the Turaga ni Koro.

“We have had no water at our island village since the cyclone struck. We come here with the younger children to bathe and wash clothes,” she told us.

Virisila travels by boat from the island and then walks under the hot sun with the other children daily to visit the creek. They also mainly rely on tanks that fill rainwater for other needs apart from washing and bathing.

“The cyclone took my home, my school and even our food. But I’m thankful that we are all safe and no one got injured,” said Virisila while she smiled and continued brushing the clothes.

When asked about her school, she said she attends Lekutu Secondary School, which is located on the mainland. She travels by boat and then about fifteen minutes by truck to reach school every day. Lekutu Secondary School is one of the most damaged schools with Tropical Cyclone Yasa leaving the school with no roof and ruined infrastructure.

Lekutu Secondary School is one of the most damaged schools with Tropical Cyclone Yasa leaving the school with no roof and ruined infrastructure.
Lekutu Secondary School is one of the most damaged schools with Tropical Cyclone Yasa leaving the school with no roof and ruined infrastructure.

“I love going to school. I especially love my Fijian and Home Economics class where I learn how to make tasty food like chicken sandwiches,” said Virisila. “But now I’m not too sure about what will happen to my school…,” she trailed off slowly while staring into a blank space in the midst of the conversation.

She slowly looked back and shared how scared she was during the cyclone.

“You know, almost all our houses’ roofs are now blown off and damaged. I was so afraid when the heavy rain and strong winds hit. We all ran to the church hall, which was the strongest place we could hide.”

She smiled quickly and added, “We are strong and happy that we still have each other. We will get through together.” She continued smiling positively and looked at the other children and young adults who were listening in to the conversation while bathing as well as washing and rinsing their clothes.

Just then, two boys from the island village called out that the Turaga ni Koro had arrived. We bid adieu to Virisila and paid our respects to the Turaga ni Koro.

We were then back on our journey, loading water, sanitation and hygiene kits on the small motorboats ready to support families and children in Tavea Island.

The team of UNICEF and Ministry of Health and Medical Services staff load water, sanitation and hygiene packs on the motorboats to deliver to the people of Tavea Island.
The team of UNICEF and Ministry of Health and Medical Services staff load water, sanitation and hygiene packs on the motorboats to deliver to the people of Tavea Island.

UNICEF's support to Tropical Cyclone Yasa response:

UNICEF, together with partners, is supporting the Fijian government to respond to the needs of communities, families and children in affected areas. Technical support to damage assessments in schools as well as health facilities was provided so data can be used to inform an effective and well-targeted response.

Water, sanitation and hygiene dignity kits including water containers, buckets, soap, sanitary pads and whistles, amongst other materials are being distributed to families in the most affected areas. Education supplies, including tents, tarpaulins, school-in-a-box, early childhood development and recreation kits have also been delivered, and many more are ready to be distributed once damage assessment analysis is complete, in time for the new school term. Communities are receiving important messages and building awareness on how to keep safe and protected after a cyclone.

Tents, serving as temporary clinics, and essential nutrition supplies have also been distributed to support health facilities. UNICEF is ready to support the humanitarian response to hasten the recovery and a return to normalcy of families and communities.