As the Think Pacific team begin another huge building project on Moturiki Island, and our volunteers get ready for lots of hard work ahead, we thought it would be a great opportunity to provide some background into the community of Wawa and the dreams and aspirations of the local people, which has led Think Pacific to finally bring a team to this tiny and remote village.
In the lead up to this project, several people in the UK asked me why we have been tasked to create a community hall for a village of such small proportions? With just six families residing in Wawa today, this does on the face of it, seem an unusual objective. But as I believe with so many dreams, you sometimes have to go a little deeper to understand the reasoning and passion behind the ambition.
Think Pacific’s projects are planned with such a unique, careful and detailed process of dialogue, planning and prioritisation with the communities, the Provincial Council and several departments of the Ministry in Fiji that it takes many years from a project being first conceived by the village and government to our actual funding and realization. Each project goes through a series of tests to ensure it meets the requirements of our core aims; to ease poverty issues, to increase opportunity, to respect Fijian culture and to achieve development that would be otherwise inconceivable and unobtainable for Fijian people themselves. This building project meets all of these objectives and so much more.
The disappearance of a once mighty village
It’s hard to believe today, but Wawa was once the largest working village on the entire island. Whilst Wawa may have just six families living there at this time, they technically have the largest overall population of the nine neighbouring communities.
Moturiki and Wawa also have an immense history and are renowned archaeological sites. In fact the oldest human skeleton ever found in Fiji (dating back almost 3000 years!) was found close by to the village settlement.
A small village Wawa may be today, but it is one of the oldest and most important in Fijian history. And there are more people in Fiji today who call this village their traditional home than anywhere else in the whole region!
Due to the limited facilities and opportunities provided by the village, over the years this has sadly led to one of the major indicators of poverty in Fiji, the rural-urban drift from the poor and traditional communities to the towns of Fiji’s mainland. This is an issue the Fijian Council and elders regard as devastating for the future survival of these ancient villages.
The return of extended family
During the long school holidays, at Easter, at Christmas and during Fijian National Holidays, many of the community return from the mainland back to their traditional home of Wawa, with no shelter and nowhere to gather.
Over these periods, the hall in Wawa shall be in use every single day, for a huge array of purposes. It shall provide housing for the villagers, as they currently sleep on the church floor or in temporary and flimsy shelters, it shall be where the community eat, it shall be where services are held and it shall be where visitors are greeted and ceremonies performed. Therefore, whilst Wawa may be the smallest village, the hall itself is more valuable and will receive more use during these frequent times of concentrated population, than in any other hall on the whole island.
The centre of Fijian society
Within Fijian villages the Church and the Hall are the two most important buildings, indeed a ‘community hall’ means so much more than it does in the west. Fijian society is entirely based upon communal living, sharing, and ceremonial customs. Aspects of culture are slowly being eroded in the villages, where the ability of the whole community to live as one and continue their subsistence life is hindered by a lack of appropriate facilities. The hall provides this vital and sole communal space and in so doing, provides an opportunity for the culture, customs and traditional life to thrive.
A community hall in Fiji provides a vital space for every communal activity; it is the central focus of the society. Whilst the bigger villages on the islands may have the capacity to host weddings, funerals, services, ceremonies and feasts, the smaller villages do not. With just six families in Wawa, any group or gathering places such a huge burden upon the community. The community hall shall forever alleviate this burden, and whilst they may be the smallest village, the people of wawa are extremely keen that their size should not cripple them as a community, as they play a full part in island activities such as church gatherings, chiefly visits, weddings, funerals and combined services.
It is a place which the Ministry have specifically requested, to be able to undertake training workshops, to host visiting doctors and temporary clinics, to enable youth groups, women’s groups and kindergarten to flourish, as all hope, the village population increases in time with the increase in community development.
Importantly it will also serve a very practical safety measure against natural disaster; A hurricane shelter for the village. It is a priority of the Fijian Ministry to enable at least one safe and structurally sound building capable of withstanding cyclones to be present in every community. It was only last year, when Hurricane Tomas ripped through the Fiji Islands, and our community hall in Nasauvuku village was tested to the maximum as the entire village sheltered within. We were all relieved to see that the hall passed its greatest test with flying colours and whilst many houses were damaged, our hall stayed strong and in perfect condition.
The first step to fresh water
There are two major infrastructure projects planned for Wawa; the creation of this hall and the development of an improved water source for the village. Initially, in the early meetings with Wawa, Think Pacific was keen to assist with the water project first. However, Wawa prioritised the community hall first, demonstrating its importance to their village life. Taking into account the inability of generations to provide a community building, this became Think Pacific’s project, with the water being investigated instead by our partners at the Lomaiviti Council and the Fijian Ministry.
The decision was reinforced by the Ministry that the hall must come first. The water tanks donated by Think Pacific require a solid structure as their base and the architectural plans that best suit their implementation are for these giant water tanks to be placed at the ends of large, structurally approved building. The piping donated by Think Pacific will next be plumbed across the sides of the hall and brought down into the community. The villagers shall then look to bring the water to each individual home from this central source. This is therefore, the first stage to completing two vital infrastructure aims, the central community facility, followed by piped water into each home in Wawa.
A Fijian dream
A key aspect to Think Pacific’s projects is realizing the dreams of communities and assisting with development that would otherwise be entirely beyond them. The villagers of Wawa have dreamed of a community building in their village for generations. It is not the be all and end all of preventing the drifting of a society from their traditional homes, but it provides the biggest foundation for hope, further development and the future of this once mighty village. It is through the funding and support of our volunteer team that this dream will be realized.
Aside from the extended family spread far and wide across Fiji, there are probably few people who give much thought to Wawa village today. Its history and traditions are almost lost, its people struggle on quietly, in a far corner of a remote tropical island. And it would have been easy for Think Pacific to pass by this village all too easily. A few families from Wawa wouldn’t have caused much of a fuss if their ambitions had been missed in the development plans for the region, and we could have visited a larger community instead, one which would not have posed as much of a challenge. However, Think Pacific reaches out to every single member of Moturiki. We are passionate about contributing to real issues and impacting on the daily lives of all who reside here, even the smallest villages in the most logistically challenging of locations. Think Pacific believe that being small should not mean that you are ever forgotten.
When we told the community last year that Think Pacific would achieve this project for Wawa, the villagers were in tears of joy. They held a feast in honour of a team that would one day arrive. This week, our volunteers did indeed arrive and the building of Wawa community hall began. The village have welcomed the team with open arms and we’ve seriously never seen a village work so hard in the preperation for one of our teams ever before!
In just eight weeks’ time, after some immense dedication from our volunteers, we look forward to welcoming the Fijian Ministry, Chiefs, friends, family and villagers back to Wawa for a huge party to celebrate the completion of this magnificent achievement.
Vinaka September team!
Simon, Harry and the TP team.