22 Apr 2016

Fijians feeling hopeless after cyclone

7:03 am on 22 April 2016

Up to two people in each village in Fiji are in a desperate psychological state, say counsellors helping people recover after Cyclone Winston.

Usenia Nemai and daughters Rusila, 18, and Marie Grace, 5, stand at what used to be the lounge of their two-bedroom home in Driti village.

Usenia Nemai and daughters Rusila, 18, and Marie Grace, 5, stand at what used to be the lounge of their two-bedroom home in Driti village. Photo: New Zealand Defence Force

They say children are also still suffering trauma two months after the category five storm hit.

Local Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) Empower Pacific has counsellors visiting communities around the country to help with pyschosocial recovery.

Counsellor Salvin Singh said among the 50 to 100 households in each community they had visited, the rate of desperation was high.

"There might be one or two cases in all the villages, I would say, on a very high note of hopelessness," he said.

"They don't know what to do and they might think it's not worth living with all this situation and it might never be improved."

People in high need were referred to health professionals.

Empower Pacific counsellor Salvin Singh

Empower Pacific counsellor Salvin Singh Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

The counsellors said anxiety was rife where people had lost their entire source of income.

Cyclone Winston struck Fiji in February, killing dozens and devastating entire villages.

One village the counsellors visited, which makes traditional sasa brooms from coconut leaves, has no cash flow after their coconut trees were ruined.

Another counsellor Kelera Batibasaga said children were still suffering from the trauma of the cyclone, which was the worst to hit Fiji since records began.

"When they try to get back to school, their mind is just blank," she said.

"And the children experiencing that - roof being blown off, things being dragged from one corner to another corner. Those are things the children are still talking about. They forget about school things."

Family shot of 6 family members

Elisapeci Biau, left, is exhausted as Winston left 11 family members living in cramped conditions. Photo: RNZ / Sally Round

An expert in post-disaster psychosocial care, Holly Griffin, said Fiji's social structure and traditions were helping in the recovery.

She is helping the Fiji Red Cross with the training of counsellors.

Ms Griffin was earlier helping Christchurch people recover psychologically from the earthquakes and she said Fijians were less socially isolated, which was helping the situation.

People understood the importance of talking about what they had experienced, she said.

"They're a really social society. They have really strong communities generally and some really positive coping strategies because of that. They sit together and talk and support each other in ways that in Christchurch sometimes we needed to work on."

Mohammed Nadim shows photos of the house that was destroyed by Winston.

Mohammed Nadim shows photos of the house that was destroyed by Winston. Photo: RNZ/ Sally Round

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