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The training that got us through Tropical Cyclone Ian

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Hello to my neighbours in Australia.  I am Reverend ‘Ilaiakimi of the Free Tonga Church in Pukotala Village.  I’m 44 and live with my wife and family.  Thank you for caring about my community. 

I’ve seen the destruction that our friends in Vanuatu have just been through with Cyclone Pam. I remember when my land was devastated after Tropical Cyclone Ian last year.  This was a Category 5 storm, as well.   My congregation are praying for a swift and safe recovery for the people of Vanuatu.

Every year we get tropical cyclones and storms during the wet season. And every year these storms tear through our homes and land, and we need to rebuild afterwards.  Of course, the worst part was that people in my village would not always make it through. 

Three years ago, a Field Project Officer from Act for Peace and the Tonga National Council of Churches (TNCC) spoke with me about the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) project. He explained that with planning and some basic equipment the chance of surviving a cyclone and reducing damage to our property would be greatly increased.  We were taught evacuation procedures and each family in our village was shown how to pack and prepare a family emergency kit in advance.  I did a training course with Act for Peace and spoke with my church family about Disaster Risk Reduction.
Our old church building was destroyed by Cyclone Ian, but the good news is that we all knew not to take shelter here.  We were trained to go to a community evacuation centre that was built as part of the DRM program, and fitted with a water tank and food supplies.

When the warning came of the powerful strength of Cyclone Ian, I was in a team responsible for evacuating every family in my village.  We went door to door and told everyone that they had 30 minutes to leave.  Many were prepared with their family emergency kit but some others were not so ready! We are a good community and everyone helped each other.

When time was up I blew the conch shell horn for all to hear that we must leave. The wind was already strong and the team did a quick check that no one was left behind. By the time I was in the shelter the noise from the wind was terrifying.  Inside, we were at peace because we were together - no one was left alone outside. 

Without the training that we received by Act for Peace and the TNCC we would not have had an organised and practised evacuation.  And we would not have had shelter, water and food supplies ready for the storm and the weeks that followed.  So I stand at my old church building which was destroyed but I am not sad. It is only a building. My family and friends in our village are the church.

- Reverend ‘Ilaiakimi

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Please give generously to continue our life-saving work here or find out about how you can become an Act for Peace Partner.

Act for Peace and the Tonga National Council of Churches actively supports the Tropical Cyclone Disaster Risk Management (DRM) project that has been rolled out in Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.  The program aims to develop preparation and evacuation plans for extreme weather, such as Tropical Cyclone Ian, in order to minimise destruction and loss of life.

Working with community volunteers, like Reverend ‘Ilaiakimi, the DRM program encourages communities to take control of their situation by planning their response to a disaster, building on existing capacities and developing a positive plan for the future that will help save lives. Since each village is unique with varied challenges, the project focuses on one village at a time. A Field Project Officers will spend up to 10 days in each village to establish these procedures.

So far: 6,240 individuals have received training and 468 villages have benefitted from the DRM project you are supporting. 3,000 school children were also provided with education materials and given training so they can become future advocates for reducing the impact of disasters due to intensifying climate patterns in the Pacific Islands.

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