Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Yachties in Vanua Levu


from Peceli
Boat-building in Cawaro in Udu
I found this website and was surprised to see that there are some things happening in babasiga land that is usually unnoticed by the newspaper journalists (though Fiji Times did run a feature article in the 'people' section about this story). Some yachties have made great contribution to the local people in the Udu district, in the village of Cawaro. Helping out, participating in the community, repairing and building boats which are absolutely necessary to life for the people there. Here is Dave’s story.

This Is Where the Real Story begins.

We went to Cawaro, Udu, a village that had no road, electricity nor phone. Cawaro lies 40 miles by water east of Labasa, the major shopping center for all of Vanua Levu . The village owned a 28-foot plywood Fisheries boat. The boat's engine was broken and had not run for over three years. I decided to I wanted to see the boat working again. Getting an engine and installing it took 4 months. In the meantime I was also repairing outboard motors and built the Chief a punt and Kyoko was doing first aid with the kids and women.

We went to showed up to help as well. Dave and Linda have returned three times. Peter and Min have returned as well. With the help of Baker, one of the regulars on the "Rag of the Air" (the marine sideband radio net that I have been hosting since the! I later found it was almost three years from the day it quit to the day I got it going again. During the big celebration at the village hall, every house gave us presents; there was a big dinner and a kava ceremony. There were speeches and people (including Jim) cried! Within the first year the transmission gave up and we had to buy a new one and after about a year of service the boat needed some major hull repair. It was then we realized we had become part of the village. Some where about this time the whole village got together and us an island (74 acres just off shore from the village), they renamed it Also Island after our yacht. To make it legal to work, even volunteer work, we had to get a company registered and funded, "ALSO Island Limited". The island was the only practical place to get a boat on shore to work on it. We decided to build a boat building and repair facility on the island. This meant we needed a lease. Working with the Chief to complete the lease on the island was a lengthy, involved and rather difficult process. Because it is Î Native Land ', the lease is with Native Lands Trust Board.

Once that was complete we moved our operation from the village hall to the island and began to build as we rebuilt the village boat! Dave and Linda of ÏIrish Melody and two sets of friends from New Zealand Ted and Karen from "Sequester" and Peter and Marilyn from "Tamariki" came to assist with rebuilding the village boat and building the facility. Having heard what was going on, other cruising friends showed up to help as well. Dave and Linda have returned three times. Peter and Min have returned as well. While the rebuild was going on we built a tool storage room and a work shed.

Making a Difference

In the end, we found the only way we could get a long term visa and a waiver on the duty on the "ALSO II was to buy property or to become Investors. We chose the latter as it would give us the opportunity to do more of what we found rewarding: helping the local people. We are seeing that we can make a difference with a very small budget and a dedicated effort.
The effect of our efforts on the local economy is obvious. With the village boat working, the people are fishing and selling their fish in Labasa, they are making money to pay their church assessment, buy schoolbooks, pay school fees and send their kids to Labasa to complete their education. (The local school is only primary and secondary, 8 years) At the same time we were participating in the local community on a daily basis: I was repairing things, building punts, Kyoko was doing first aid, looking after the village boat money, managing the village store and we attended the weekly meetings. We funded the start of the boat program which included the purchase of a drum of pre-mix, this fuel was to be given to those going fishing and was to be paid for from the proceeds of their catch; we also funded the start-up of a small local store.

Both these projects have been a real challenge, largely because of the Îcommunal' culture. Everyone is related in one way or another. Part of the culture is that they do not like to say Îno' to anyone. Indeed there are some people to whom they cannot say Îno'. So, if the Chief comes to the store without money for his purchase and asks for credit, the storekeeper will find it very difficult to refuse, even knowing that the Chief probably will never pay. So we had a difficult time keeping the money to run the store. We lost all the fuel and money three different times until we finally gave up and took the fuel to the island.

We have now become a Shell dealer for a large part of the Udu area. The availability of fuel alone has made a very large difference to all of the villages near by and has sparked significant enterprise for this area. We purchased another Fisheries boat which Kyoko now operates with a Captain, who buys fish from the village, transports it to Labasa and returns with supplies. We are now constructing new buildings to house an island store and a coconut press and plan to make virgin, cold-press coconut oil. Currently if they want to work coconut, the villages have to husk and split it, get the meat out, dry it to form Îcopra', and take it to Labasa to sell. It is a laborious process that pays poorly plus transportation is difficult and expensive. If we can press oil, we will provide a local outlet, create jobs and keep more of the proceeds here. Plus oil is easier to transport.

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