Before dawn this Saturday, two 10-wheeler trucks will rumble out of Suva, and turn north onto the King’s Rd, which skirts the top of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.
After a three-hour journey, the drivers of those trucks will stop to engage low gear. Then they’ll grind their way up the last steep pitch of the track which ends at Maniava, the koro, or village, which, in February, was more or less blasted from the map by Cyclone Winston.
Thirty-four of the 38 houses in Maniava were wrecked by that cyclone, whose winds were the most ferocious ever to strike Fiji.
Those two trucks will deliver the timber, the pre-nailed trusses, the cement, nails and general building supplies which will allow Maniava to begin rebuilding in earnest – and which, God willing, will see three new houses built and ready for occupation by Christmas.
So they’ll be three houses down, and 31 to go.
That’s just one aspect of the rebuild that’s happening, too.
Last Saturday, a team of young blokes who were in Suva for the Tikanga Youth Exchange (TYE) bent their backs to the digging of foundations for a new 14m x 8m church, funded by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which will be completed by April next year.
About a 20-minute jolting drive down the hill from Maniava, you can also see a new school dormitory, funded by an emergency grant from the St Johns College Trust Board, rising from the ground.
That new dormitory, which is just across the road from Tokaimalo District School, replaces one destroyed by Cyclone Winston. The wrecked dormitory is where the Maniava kids used to stay during the school week – and the new one will be ready for the start of the 2017 school year.
Each of these new buildings – the houses, the church and the dormitory – replace jerry-built structures that were smashed by Cyclone Winston.
Each has been designed and will be built to a government-promulgated building code, by qualified tradespeople, so that each will be able to withstand Category 5 cyclones.
On Saturday morning Archbishop Winston Halapua blessed the site of the new church, and he and Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley – who, as youth liaison bishop, was in Suva with the TYE – turned the first sods in the digging of the new church’s foundations.
The money for those truckloads of materials has come from several sources.
The NZ Anglican Missions Board Cyclone Winston Appeal for Maniava has raised $136,000 – which includes $42,000 donated by the Australian Anglican Board of Mission, the Diocese of Texas and the Episcopal Relief and Development Agency.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has approved a grant of £25,000 sterling (NZ$45,000) for the building of the church – and the day after Cyclone Winston struck , the St John’s College Trust Board gave $200,000 to the Diocese of Polynesia, and it’s that money which has paid for the rebuilding of the dormitory, and the rebuilding of a pre-school at St James, Levuka, which was also razed by Cyclone Winston.
Getting to this point hasn’t exactly been plain sailing, says Archbishop Winston.
The Government is insisting that all rebuilt houses, even in outlying koro like Maniava, should conform to strict building codes. It won’t come to the party with financial relief for homeowners unless the rebuilt houses do comply.
But that insistence has also meant that the traditional ways for villagers to quickly get back on their feet again after cyclones – with men heading out into the bush with chainsaws – won’t do anymore.
The strict new standards have also meant that building materials are also hard to find – government approved suppliers and hardware merchants were quickly cleaned out, post Cyclone Winston – and qualified building tradespeople are as scarce as hen’s teeth, too.
More than 200 Fijian schools and health clinics are still out of action. Rebuilding them is the Government’s first priority, says Archbishop Winston, and those structures get first call on skills and materials.
And that’s why the contributions of people like Harold Koi are so crucial.
Harold is a qualified carpenter, a veteran of the building trade – he operates ‘Harold’s General Works’ in Suva – and he and his wife May are stalwarts at St Luke’s, Suva Point.
Two weeks ago, Archbishop Winston asked Harold if he would be able to help out with the rebuilding of Maniava – and he’s doing so, for free.
He was at Maniava last Saturday – and once those building materials arrive, he and two of his men will camp on site. They’ll set up a carpentry workshop where they’ll prefabricate wall panels for the rebuilt houses, and they’ll build the church.
For Harold, making that kind of contribution is not a hardship.
It’s certainly not one that ranks with the hardship he faced back in 1977, when he was just 11 years old.
That’s when Harold’s dad died. His mum, his six brothers and sisters and Harold were left grieving, and struggling. Fr Iloa Tuineau, his wife Juliette and the congregation of St Marks Newtown, are what kept the Koi family going.
When Harold turned 16, he asked Fr Iloa to write a letter to get him into a vocational school.
Fr Iloa didn’t do that.
Instead, he set up a vocational school at St Marks himself – and he recruited tutors from New Zealand, Australia, Canada (and American Peace Corps volunteers) to teach building skills, welding and other trades to struggling young guys like Harold.
Harold was the first student there – and five years later, he graduated as a qualified builder.
So Harold never ceases to be grateful for the hand up he got back then – and never loses the opportunity to show his gratitude.
He’s not the only one, either.
Alfred Williams, who is also a committed Anglican, is in charge of the rebuild of the dormitory down by Tokaimalo District School.
Besides Christmas and New Year’s Day, the work at Maniava won’t slacken.
Archbishop Winston is putting out a call to tradesmen in the Diocese: if they can contribute a few day’s labour at Maniava over their Christmas break, their efforts will be most welcome.
And because the Diocese of Polynesia has undertaken to feed the workers at Maniava – Archbishop Winston is asking Suva church families to think of the workers when they do their Christmas food shopping.
If they’re buying three chickens for Christmas dinner – grab one for the Maniava workers as well.
Shopping for five cans of tinned meat? Make that six, and grab some extra cassava while you’re at it.
At the end of the short service to bless the foundations for the church, Archbishop Winston explained that over his years of visiting Maniava, he’d led services which had been held in three different worship centres.
Each one had been destroyed by cyclones.
But the one whose foundations, poured in concrete, are being laid now?
Matthew 16:18 is perhaps the relevant scripture here:
“…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
 While the TYE boys dug, the girls ran a programme for the Maniava kids.
 February 20, 2016.