The gift of another chance to students in cyclone-hit Rakiraki

LENDING A HAND: Music teacher Melissa Collins, right, and graduate Lydia Taylor are preparing to fly out to the Fijian village of Rakiraki to help build new homes for school students. Picture: Simone De Peak

LENDING A HAND: Music teacher Melissa Collins, right, and graduate Lydia Taylor are preparing to fly out to the Fijian village of Rakiraki to help build new homes for school students. Picture: Simone De Peak

Most of the villagers in Rakiraki were already living below the poverty line when Tropical Cyclone Winston barrelled into Fiji in February, the most powerful cyclone to ever make landfall in the southern hemisphere.

60 students who attended the local secondary school - Nakuvadra High - never returned, too traumatised by the category five storm that wiped out more than 1000 homes and decimated the local sugar cane industry.

When students and staff at Hunter Christian College heard about the plight of their two stricken sister schools, Nakuvadra High and Rakiraki District primary, they were determined to help.

“The winds during the Pasha Bulka storm were 124 kilometres-an-hour,” teacher Melissa Collins said.

“To give you an idea, during Cyclone Winston the winds in Fiji were over 300 kilometres-an-hour.

“Whole places have been wiped out and so many people living over there are still in tents. 

“The amazing thing is how resilient they are and the way they band together.” 

Next week a group of six volunteers from the school will fly out to the village for a project dubbed the ‘House on the Rock’; the construction of two houses directly across the road from the school for 12 remote area students, strong enough to withstand another category five cyclone.

The work will include fitting the houses with new toilets, showers and kitchens. 

Ms Collins said the homes would allow six boys and six girls to get back to their education for the first time since the cyclone struck. 

Once the House on the Rock is complete - with a target completion date of January, in time for the next school year - attention will turn to the construction of a cyclone-safe, multipurpose facility for the community with internet connectivity.

The work is being funded entirely by donations from the Newcastle community, with the school raising $27,000 towards the project over the last year.

$13,000 alone was raised during a trivia night in August thanks to donations from the business community.

The school is continuing its fundraising push by selling furnishings for the new homes, with members of the public able to buy anything from cushions for $10 to washing machines for $250. 

The departing Year 12 group has also chosen to do a fundraiser for Fiji as their departing gift to the school. 

Hunter Christian School has had a long-standing relationship with Rakiraki, sending a volunteer group to live and work in village each year for the past decade. 

“This is kind of our next level to what we’ve been doing for the last few years,” Ms Collins said. 

“We hope that it’s just the start of even bigger projects.” 

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