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Tropical Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc in the Fiji Islands on February 20, 2016. This devastating category 5 cyclone left many inhabitants of the affected areas without basic supplies and shelter. Remote communities in the townships of Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki (on the North West side of the main island - Viti Levu) along with about 100 smaller outlying islands such as Koro were amongst the worst affected areas. There was a major economic impact to heavy industries and agriculture including the sugar cane industry, which is the second major economic activity in Fiji after tourism.

The Sathya Sai International Organisation (SSIO) of Zone 3 – Australia and Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand, sprang into action immediately after the cyclone hit Fiji. Sathya Sai volunteers from Fiji began offering hot meals, food packets, drinking water, clothes and medical care to the victims of the natural disaster immediately after a nation-wide curfew was lifted. Equipped with small packs of biscuits, milk, bottled water, juice, as well as cooked meals, the team reached out to those who needed help. The following day, a second team also joined the humanitarian relief effort. Major obstacles, including landslides, had to be overcome by volunteers in many instances. SSIO members delivered over 6 tonnes of food and 1,500 litres of clean drinking water, in many cases by foot and even on horseback. By the end of the first week, SSIO members had distributed over 3,300 packets of uncooked food items and approximately 3,500 packets of cooked food. Later, the SSIO also distributed sanitary items, clothes, personal items and hygiene kits.

One consignment of 500 packets weighed about 18 tonnes, and included one month’s ration for families located in the remote mountains in the interior region of Viti Levu, one of the larger islands. Four-wheel drive vehicles were needed to reach the families by traversing primitive access roads. True to the teachings of Sathya Sai, the SSIO volunteers offered not only food, but also loving, comforting words to encourage the afflicted people of Fiji.

The provision of basic supplies such as food, clothing, and footwear is expected to continue. Clothing and basic essentials were sent from major cities of Australia to Fiji. Collection of clothes were boxed at Sathya Sai Centres under the auspices of the SSIO – Australia. The next phase of relief will focus on sustainable clean drinking water in devastated areas; and providing drinking water and water purifying systems, as needed. Other aspects of continued relief efforts will be provision of temporary shelter, repair of schools and provision of educational materials for the damaged schools in the area.

A nationwide prayer appeal was organised in Australia. Prayers and devotional singing to help disaster victims and provide energy to the hardworking volunteers were conducted daily at Sathya Sai Centres across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. While this catastrophe was a very difficult time for the Fiji Islands, it was also an opportunity for the spiritual growth of the victims and volunteers. The individuals who were traumatized by the storm have shown great strength and resolve and the SSIO volunteers have been inspired and have gained immensely by their loving, selfless service.