Friday, 22 April 2016

The Unsung Heroes of TC Winston: The Media and Volunteers

This week I draw attention to two groups that work quietly and humbly in the background to take Fiji back to normalcy after the ravages of TC Winston. While I will also touch on the economic aspects, it is worth noting that we usually take them for granted during natural disasters. They are the media and volunteers.

The Media
A letter writer noted in the FT of 26/2/16 that the media kept people up-to-date with news and the after effects of Cyclone Winston. While the stories and images were traumatic, we were nevertheless  touched by the many inspirational stories of courage. More importantly, the letter writer had been inspired by the news items and images to take personal action. Rather than just sympathising with the victims he noted that we should “give  food, clothes, our time and prayers of encouragement.”
The role of the print, audio and visual media in Fiji. including PINA, has been very influential in helping inform the people of the scale of TC Winston’s trail of destruction. Stories of suffering and also courage in the face of adversity has helped the nation and the global community to not only be informed but to take action in providing help to the victims. I  saw a local TV reporter explain very succinctly the ravages of TC Winston on the BBC. (To be honest, I was nervous at first thinking that he might not match up to the standards of the BBC but I was pleasantly surprised at the high quality reporting he provided.)
I notice while reading yahoo online news (which compiles reports from various US and global news services that some articles carried bylines from Fiji reporters.
I am always impressed with the reporters I have met who are usually polite and very patient.  Having been a reporter myself in my younger days, I can understand the need for patience especially the long winded way interviewees take to explain simple points. I am told I am too westernised.
In addition to providing news coverage, most media outlets were helping out in the
TC Winston National Fund Appeal in collaboration with the Fiji Red Cross, the National Disaster Management Office / DISMAC or other agencies and corporations. This media support has been beneficial in accelerating the process of collecting funds not only locally but internationally too. The amount of money raised from these media initiated appeals is very substantive. In addition, the monetary value of free print media advertising space, and TV and radio slots  used to publicise these appeals would add up to tens of thousands of dollars. While I was driving a week ago, I had a group ringing up a radio station to air an announcement on ration distributions. This was done immediately by the radio announcer. In normal times, a fee would have been charged for such announcements.
I understand that media staff have also been involved in cyclone relief work too. A report in the FT of 27/2/16 noted that staff of The Fiji Times had made their way out to families in areas that were worst-hit by Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston like Tailevu Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki to distribute food rations, clothes and other giveaways. One radio and TV program has kept us in high spirits with the lighthearted comments and joke. There were complaints in social media that they shouldn’t be joking so much especially in these hard times. However the media has also played a role in helping us have a positive upbeat attitude inspite of all that we have suffered. The print. audio and visual media in Fiji are the first unsung heroes of TC Winston.

I now turn to the second unsung heroes, the volunteers who have played a pivotal role in the distribution of rations. We often expect volunteers to appear out of nowhere during natural disasters and often grumble when they don’t show up quickly in affected areas. The bulk of Fiji’s volunteers are youths and it is to Fiji’s credit that when disasters happen our young people are always willing to help out with warm smiles and hard work. I  worked mainly with the “Youths For Integrity” volunteers who worked with the Fiji Red Cross, Vodafone/ATH, FENC, ASPIRE and FCOSS (which coordinates the work of NGO volunteer work.)
The bulk of them are between the ages of 18 and 25 and are University students. Many said that while they were personally traumatised by the scale of the destruction and suffering they did not have time to feel dejected as most of those they distributed relief supplies too expected encouragement and even prayers from them. Most volunteers have to pay for their own transport costs and in many cases the meals they have during work time are usually very basic snacks.
Special mention should be made of the UNV (United Nations Volunteers) Fiji who ran a program on Feb 12 on “Youth Change the World Volunteering for SDGs” that brought together volunteer groups in Suva and empowered young people to come out immediately after TC Winston passed Fiji.
The Fiji Council of Social Services  coordinated NGOs in relief and volunteer work in coordination with NDMO / DISMAC with great efficiency.
If you are free this afternoon at 5.00pm, the Fiji National Youth Parliament Alumni and ASPIRE are holding a TC Winston Memorial Night to remember those who have lost their lives and those heavily affected including the unsung heroes who rose to the occasion.
Finally we appeal to readers that if they have clothes, food and other donations we would be most grateful to receive this today at the Transparency International Fiji Office on Pratt Street Street, phone 3304702 . Pick up can also be arranged.

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