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Fijians Show Depth of Character, Faith, Six Months After Cyclone Winston

Six months after category 5 Cyclone Winston ravaged the Fijian island of Taveuni, recovery efforts are still underway, with much accomplished and much left to do. But the industrious Fijians have restored order to their homes and villages and the beauty of foliage and flowers is in full array.

Assisting in the recovery efforts, LDS Charities, an arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, continues to provide supplies and service to the communities hardest hit.

Two volunteer senior missionaries for the Church, Karen and John Vermeeren from Canada, have been living on the island of Taveuni for the past 18 months. For months following the cyclone, they and a small group of young missionaries tirelessly organized and provided relief to the many residents of the island who lost their homes and all their belongings.

The work continues today, but, for the Vermeerens, comes to a close next week as their volunteer service in Fiji ends, and they return home. They have spent many days, weeks, and months working alongside the islanders and the young missionary elders and sisters.

Sister Vermeeren said, "What an honour to wear these vests and serve these wonderful people."

When asked about the current conditions in Taveuni, Vermeerens report that clean drinking water is a big issue. Even before the cyclone, providing potable water in the islands is an ongoing challenge, but Winston brought the issues to the forefront. Since then, most of the island has suffered from drought conditions. LDS Charities is involved in many projects to alleviate the water shortage.

The villagers are hopeful that government and private help will be available as the rebuilding process continues. Lumber and other building materials are in high demand and difficult to obtain. Many still wait for lumber to be available. The boat loads thus far have brought lumber that has been presold.

Vermeeren said, “Many continue to live in tents with their families, but they smile and say the tents do keep the mosquitoes away much better than their homes once did!”

The Rotary Club and others continue to help the schools rebuild, but tents are still very prominent in the school yards, and many buildings are awaiting repair.

"LDS Charities has provided seeds and the gardens are flourishing. The trees are starting to yield their fruits again. Soon, papaya, bananas, mango, and other fruits that have not been available since Winston, will be here again. The gardens are beautiful, the flowers blooming, as if nothing ever happened," Vermeeren said.

“The aftermath of the storm has been an incredible journey for many. A warm gratitude for family, friends, and their very lives seems to draw them nearer together and remind them what really matters. Many are turning and returning to God. They are helping each other rebuild, plant gardens, and take care of their physical needs. We are again and again touched by their willingness to share what little they have with each other. 

“We are constantly amazed at their ability to smile through whatever difficulties are placed before them. They are an example of hope, faith, and love. God truly watches over these gentle people.” 

Story contributor and photo credits: Karen Vermeeren

To read more of the Vermeeren's volunteer mission in Taveuni, Fiji click here.

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