On Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 February, mega storm Tropical Cyclone Winston tore through Fiji, destroying homes, schools and livelihoods.

Melanie Patterson, a child and family psychologist, was part of the emergency response team sent by Save the Children. She reflects on her experiences in the hours and days that followed the disaster.

Flying into Fiji felt like a bit of a surreal experience. There were obviously a lot of tourists flying into Nadi for a holiday which, although necessary for the economy, felt strange considering the Category 5 cyclone that had been through the country in the previous two days.

The flight from Nadi to Suva felt a bit more real. You could tell the humanitarian workers flying in from their sensible footwear and their branded T-Shirts. We arrived late at night and there was a lot of rain and wind. The ride to our accommodation was very bumpy and at times it was pretty hard to see the road from our taxi due to either the rain or the flooding on the road. 

 We arrived at the office the next day to find it busy but struggling to operate 100% due to the power being out for a significant amount of time, the Wifi/Internet straining to cope with demand, and not able to network with the printers. In the end, we relocated to the Holiday Inn for a few hours to cool down in their air-conditioned lounge, rehydrate, recharge the laptops and cellphones and access their internet in order to get some work done. 

It was decided that I would go into the field with some Save the Children Fiji staff and Ministry of Education officials. As we drove through the villages I was astounded at the teachers’ willingness to leave their village and family to attend Child Friendly Space training in the closest town. They immediately saw the benefit of having safe places with safe people to engage the children and allow parents time to rebuild their home and livelihoods. They were also excited about the Child Friendly Space kits which would go some way to replacing the toys and art materials that were destroyed by Cyclone Winston. 

Over this two-day assessment trip I was particularly shocked by the people who were sheltering in Raviravi School. They came from surrounding coastal villages that had been severely damaged in the cyclone. They took refuge in one building on the school site and, when that lost its roof, they moved down to the main school building, which gradually lost its roof too. 

As the last classroom was losing its roof they realised that it would be too unsafe to try and move to another building on the school site and instead ripped up a number of floor boards and sheltered between the school floor and the dirt ground underneath. This was quite a shallow space and I can only imagine the cramped conditions and horror for those sheltering there for several hours while waiting for the cyclone to move away.
The remainder of my time in Fiji consisted of setting up a Train the Trainers for Save the Children Fiji staff and volunteers and officials in the Ministry of Education in the Child Friendly Space Programme, organising the resources and paperwork to allow people to go into the field and do training, helping to source psycho-education material for parents and teachers and helping to coordinate the purchase of another 50 Child Friendly Spaces kits.