Giving everyday hope to Fiji’s poor
At Christmas, did you give or receive a gift from the Everything In Common catalogue? And did you think how nice it is to be involved with the Uniting Church in Australia’s work overseas? But, then, maybe you started to question what difference is made by giving such gifts? Cath Taylor visited one of the poorest areas of Fiji’s capital, to witness first-hand how Everything in Common helps to change lives around the world.
“Do you want a mango, Aunty? I’ll climb the tree for you!” Rohil, 10 years old and in the cleanest, whitest shirt you’ll ever see, is leaping the drain before any of us can stop him. His sister and her best friend are laughing, flowers tucked behind their ears and shaking with shared mirth.
“Don’t fall Rohil!” they cry, scampering between the trees, looking for the best vantage point. “Do you want a mango, Aunty?”
The thing is, I do want a mango — very much. And more than that, I want to see the delight on their faces when these three beautiful children, around the same age as my own, hand it to me the way they’ve handed me things all morning: home-cooked daal from the table in their colourful corrugated iron church; a long piece of string laced between fingers and thumb in the shape of a tea-cup; every colourful flower we pass as we pick our way between their homes across tyres submerged in mud.
City living is hard
These children love to give. They tell me about the high tides that regularly flood their community in Suva, Fiji’s capital city. They point out the watermarks on the side of their homes. They excitedly recal the time their Aunty rolled up all the blankets and ran with the baby. They tell me about the kids who swim in the flooded, open drains.
“That must be pretty tough,” I say, as though we’re discussing a difficult maths problem, and they agree.
That’s life in one of Suva’s poorest settlements; a place that has drawn families ot it with the promise of more secure employment in the big city. What they found instead was very little electricity, few water sources and poor sanitation. If not for the tyre pathways connecting the housing, the people here would be knee deep in tidal mud.
The community works hard to keep the area clean, but they’re at the mercy of the tide, which constantly brings debris and odours into their living areas. Yet they’re proud of their homes and everything they have. They’re also determined to invest in education for their children.
Facing the future together
The three children I’ve spent the morning with take me to visit a woman who makes and sells her own jewellery. They eagerly advise me on what to buy.
“It’s very hard here, and there’s no work.” the woman tells me. “But I feel like I have to do something, it doesn’t matter how small it is. A lady showed me how to do this and I love it.
“Here, you can have this one for free,” she offers.
Later, as we sprawl on the floor of the church eating a lunch cooked by the Congregation, I ask the children what is good about living here.
“It’s like a family,” says one of the children, Cynthia. “We do everything together. We go to some different schools but we’re always together here.
“That’s what’s good.”
Cynthia wants to become a vet; maybe a teacher. Rohil dreams of becoming a policeman. Many children here attend school with the help of people in the Uniting Church in Australia, who help to buy uniforms and text books through UnitingWorld’s Everything in Common gift catalogue.
Without such support, the dreams of these children will never see the light of day.
Our Church partner, the Methodist Church in Fiji, works with this community to provide support for children to attend local schools. It is committed to the idea that education is one of the keys to breaking the poverty cycle for these families.
A local Methodist couple donated some of their land for the building of the church, which has one of the only regular supplies of electricity in the area.
Thanks to this project, children from the settlement can use the building to complete homework, as do two older students who are now at university.
Back home in Australia, I buy mangoes from our supermarket and my children tell me that mango is the smell of Christmas. And as I consider the impending rush of gift buying, I’m also remembering the children of Suva who, in spite of everything, still loved to give.
To find about the work of UnitingWorld please visit www.unitingworld.org.au.