Thursday, May 17, 2012

Alright Stop.....Hammer Time

Bula Vinaka!

So I built a house.  Well...kind of.  Really, I just spent several hours climbing rafters and hammering in nails at really weird angles.  I've got the bruises and blisters to prove it. :)  The first day we arrived we got to work building Rotohome houses.  They are a part the Koropita community development project and is closely affiliated with Habitat for Humanity.  It's a planned community project, developed by the local Rotary club, meant to provide housing, food, and education for the numerous squatters/homeless people in Fiji.  Many of these people have been trapped in poverty caused by the typically disastrous hurricane season.  They build shacks for shelter, the shacks get destroyed by winds, then they have to use all their surviving resources to rebuild the shacks that will get destroyed by the next years hurricane.  These houses, though simple, are strong and incredibly nice.  They withstand the hurricanes and still provide it's tenants with all the necessities of indoor plumbing, running water, and of course, shelter.  It's environmentally friendly (carbon neutral) and food is provided by the tenants own gardens.  Here's a pic of the community.

But the really impressive side of the project is in the social engineering.  Peter Drysdale is the man behind it all, and he has had decades of experience dealing with impoverished populations.  He grew up in Fiji and first encountered the squatter population when he was a young man working for the Queen's civil workers league.  He went from there to Oxford and now owns one of the main shipping companies here.  What he has managed is a remarkable balance of giving people a hand up without offering hand outs.  Through many years and several hard earned lessons, he has found an impressive social structure that manages to help the impoverished while protecting those in poverty from their own socially and economically destructive habits.  

He does so by keeping the community under very strict control.  There are 19 pages of rules each person agrees to upon moving in.  Part of those rules is mandatory employment and improvement trainings, education for their children, and numerous other rules directed at keeping the property self-sustaining.  Peter spends hours evaluating each incoming tenant to make sure they can fit in with the balance instead of disrupting it.  He has found a 70:30 ratio of Indo-Fijians to Native-Fijians works best to keep peace, and meets with each candidate personally to figure out where to place them such that they will get along well with their neighbors.  Those who do cause problems or breeches their 19 page contract can face possible eviction, but Peter has a process before that occurs.  First, he tries to talk to them.  If they are not home (usually because those in breech are trying to avoid him), he cuts the bolt off their lock and replaces it with his own lock.  They must then come and find him to get into their house, and that's when he confronts them with whatever issue is at hand.  After many warnings and no repentance, eviction may occur, but for the most part, the housing is such a good deal for the tenants that they usually work something out.

The main problems Peter faces at this point is 1.) How to get people employed and independent enough to move out on their own and away from the community, and 2.) Who is going to replace him (he's in his late 60's).  Considering he has literally given his whole life to this project, that will be tough.  He has tried to fend off the generational dependance by not allowing any of the children in the community to start their own family there, but rather give them the education they need to trek out on their own and start a life independent of their parents and Rotohomes.  This has worked pretty well thus far with the upcoming generation, but their parents still find it very difficult to figure out how to stand on their own two feet.  It's an interesting look at the nuances of poverty.  Not only what causes it, but what perpetuates it.  It makes me more and more sure that the solution to poverty is incredibly complex and yet totally individual in nature.  That the solution to it is somewhere in teaching the new generation, at educating them and showing them a better way than then 'traditions of their fathers,' then allowing them to choose and work for themselves at figuring out what kind of life they want.  It's a rough understanding, but it's an improvement. lol

So other than the Rotohomes, we've been meeting with different partners throughout the week to set up different projects around the island.  FRIEND is one of those groups and it has a division called Prism that travels to all the different villages and does basic medical check ups (taking stats, handing out pamphlets, etc.).  Another partner I'll probably be working with is the Gold Foundation.  It's a women's empowerment group that focuses on a lot of gender issues.  Healthy habits is one of those - and that's where I come into play.  I'm planning a project where I'll be going into the villages and working with their women's groups, teaching them the basics of nutrition.  I'm also hoping to have time to really learn how they cook and then be able to make suggestions for small progressive improvements.  Non-communicable diseases are the main cause of death in Fiji now, so I'm thinking this will give me great experience for my grad work in the states. Next week we'll be meeting with the World Health Organization and I'm quite excited to see what our options will be with that too.  One of the directors has suggested teaching Zumba to all the villages and is looking for somebody to help out with that - needless to say I'm hoping to jump on that boat. 

We did play a bit this past week or so.  Tuesday we got home from meeting with partners to a house filled with propane.  I walked in the door, smelled the propane, and told everybody to get out of the house pronto.  I checked the gas stove in the back and found the hose had come loose and had been leaking all day.  We turned off the tank, opened the windows, and got out of the house as quickly as we could.  Everybody else congregated right outside but due to my upbringing, I was not coming within 20 feet of that place.  So I walked across the street and advised the others that they may want to follow.  One of our directors went for help while another tried to have a meeting on how to write project proposals (right next to the house).  She tried to coax me into joining for the meeting but all I wanted to do was scream, "Do you really think this is an appropriate time OR an appropriate place to have a training??"  I once again suggested that they move away from the house, but to no avail.  When the other director returned, she helped move people away from the house and called the Fire Department.  This is us waiting outside our house for them to arrive.

The fire dept came in, tightened the hose, and then advised us to stay out of the house for the next several hours.  They suggested that we attend a safety meeting offered at the firehouse, and then recommended a good place to go get dinner.  I relaxed once we got away from the house and really enjoyed rest of the evening.  It turned into a nice break from the constant project focus we've been swimming in.

The next day, our directors had a surprise for us.  Apparently, one of the resorts offered to let us use their facilities (pool, beach, restaurant, etc) for $5 each.  So we had one last day of intensive paradise.  It turned into a great day.  The cool water of the pool felt incredible and switching back and forth between warm ocean and cool pool was a nice contrast.  The food was also incredible and all in all, we got a lot done.  This is where I got to do my brainstorming and project planning. :)  Awesome right?  I was able to work out my project ideas with both of our partners and team up with another girl in the group wanting to focus on exercise.  After our training with the WHO next week, I think I'm geared up and ready to go.  I'm getting to do amazing things with amazing people.  What more could I ask for?

So I think that takes us up to date.  I guess I should wrap up my time in New Zealand.  That evening in Queenstown the rain did clear for a bit, so I took a gondola up to the top of the adjacent mountain and got some great shots of just how beautiful that place was.  While I was up there, I decided to have some fun and ended up taking a luge ride from the very top around the side of the mountain.  This is the shot I got from there.  This place is just stunning.

After the luge ride, I watched a Maori culture show and even got to practice poi-ball with them.  Haha the operative part of that being 'practice' because I was pretty awful at it.  Oh well.  The men then did the Haka and explained a few things about Maori culture.  All in all it was a good show.  Afterward, I poked around the gift shop and indulged in some really yummy hot chocolate (perfect for 45 degree mountain weather if you ask me).  After dark, I headed back down the mountain.  The next morning, I begrudgingly said goodbye to Queenstown.  In the words of a certain cyborg assassin, "I'll be back."

My last day in Auckland it rained much of the day again.  In between spurts, I did manage to hike up to one of the local volcano's.  The town surrounding it had a very Lawrence, Kansas feel so I walked around a bit there too.  That evening I headed to the Auckland Skytower.  I wasn't planning on doing it, but because of the rain, my options were again limited.  It's $30 to get to the top and that just didn't seem worth it to me.  Luckily, I had a very informed hostel manager who told me if I went to the Orbit Restaurant (rotating restaurant) just above the viewing deck and spent $40+ then I would get a ticket to the viewing deck for free.  This made it much more enticing, and so for my last meal in New Zealand (the next day I was reporting to Fiji), I had an incredible lamb dinner (lamb is to New Zealand what beef is to Texas).  I've never had lamb before, and I'm still not much of a red meat person, but it was delicious.  The next morning I caught my flight to Fiji, and the rest is history.  

No comments:

Post a Comment