One year ago from today, on February 20th 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston was the strongest tropical cyclone in the South Pacific that swept through Fiji. With a fewer than a million people living in Fiji, Winston left an uncountable number of families without homes, stripping community members away from their communities, children away from their parents, and husbands and wives away from their lovers. It destroyed gardens, farms, and plantations, ripping families’ hard earned livelihoods away from them in what seemed to be seconds. It provided children and young adults with a trauma so great, that they were unable to process knowledge, stopped coming to school, and needed grief counseling.
For volunteers, this was an experience that troubled many of us so greatly. While we were evacuated to the main capital of Fiji, there were a few who barely made it and some that were trapped at their site due to the severity of the storm. Many of us lost contact with our communities, while simultaneously seeing the destruction of our villages, towns, and cities on the news. Some lost friends, some lost homes, and some lost entire communities. We felt severe guilt, helplessness and sadness, for how could we leave those who became family to us so quickly in face of a disaster?
Looking back, explaining an event like this to anyone who was not there to experience it themselves is nearly impossible. And I am aware that no one other than Peace Corps volunteers, staff, and locals, will truly understand what happened on February 20th 2016. However, for those of you reading my blog, I want you to know that while Winston brought much devastation to Fiji, it did not devastate the people. Instead, it brought them together. Never once did they lose hope, nor did their confidence waver. Serving as a volunteer during Cyclone Winston allowed me to witness the powerful, unforgettable way that the iTaukei people came together, demonstrating resilience and bravery that was much stronger and braver than Winston.