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Sunday 24 April 2016 | Published in Regional


FIJI – Hundreds of people in villages all over Fiji are in a desperate psychological state, say counsellors helping people recover after Cyclone Winston.

They say many children are also still suffering severe trauma two months after the category five storm hit and devastated their homes and communities.

Cyclone Winston struck Fiji in February, killing dozens and destroying entire villages, many of which will need to be relocated.

Local NGO Empower Pacific has counsellors visiting communities around the country to help with what the term “pyscho-social recovery”.

Counsellor Salvin Singh said among the 50 to 100 households in each community they had visited, the rate of desperation was high.

“There might be one or two cases in all the villages, I would say, on a very high note of hopelessness,” he said.

“They don’t know what to do and they might think it’s not worth living with the situation as it is and it might never be improved.”

The counsellors said anxiety was rife where people had lost their entire source of income.

People in high need are being referred to health professionals, Singh said.

Another counsellor Kelera Batibasaga said many children were still suffering from the trauma of the cyclone, which was the worst to hit Fiji since records began.

“And the children experiencing that – roof being blown off, things being dragged from one corner to another corner. Those are things the children are still talking about. They forget about school things.

“When they try to get back to school, their mind is just blank,” she said.

However, an expert in post-disaster psychosocial care, Holly Griffin, said Fiji’s social structure and traditions were helping in the recovery.

She is helping the Fiji Red Cross with the training of counsellors.

Griffin was earlier helping Christchurch people recover psychologically from the earthquakes and she said Fijians were less socially isolated, which was helping the situation.

People understood the importance of talking about what they had experienced, she said.

“They’re a really social society. They have really strong communities generally and some really positive coping strategies because of that.

“They sit together and talk and support each other in ways that in Christchurch sometimes we needed to work on.” - RNZI