11 April 2012

'Flood Kitchen': Holy Week floods in Ba, Fiji, a Columban parish

This report was sent during Holy Week by Fr Donal McIlraith, an Irish Columban who has been in Fiji for many years.

The April flood in Ba was higher than the January one. When floods come we usually open our Church basement and the Fiji Government designates it as an evacuation centre. People usually try to cook for themselves with bits of firewood they find lying around. The 30 March – 2 April floods were the highest ever recorded and so we decided as a parish that we should transform the School canteen, conveniently located near the Church hall, into a food kitchen.

Fr Donal McIlraith; Serafina Ranadi is on the far right.

Columban Lay Missionary Serafina Ranadi is presently visiting Ba, her home parish, in between assignments and was working with us on as a member of the parish staff. We asked her to take over the Kitchen. Amelia, the sacristan, and the Catholic families who lived nearby especially the Vunisinus, the Mullers and the Dotons, and Francis Pepe, agreed to assist. The flood was at its highest on Friday. By Saturday it seemed to have ended but severe rain on Saturday night flooded the town again. It was when we saw ourselves completely surrounded by water on Sunday morning that, after Mass, we decided to move with the food kitchen, our numbers had also swollen to over 100 and it was going to be difficult to feed that many.

Fr Donal McIlraith welcoming Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama 

The parish provided the raw materials and Serafina and her team got underway. We managed to provide three meals a day for everyone. On Monday the government brought us some food which we gratefully received. Individuals also donated clothing and cooking gas while some other faith groups delivered cooked meals.

On Tuesday we had an unexpected guest, the Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama. He was visiting the evacuation centres of the West to see things for himself and came and spent an hour with us. Unfortunately Serafina missed him. The night before we had had a frantic call from the Cross walkers to provide food at the Raviravi church, a centre for our Indofijian community. Every year in Fiji, the youth carry crosses from different parts of the island to a Retreat Centre, the Ashram, during Holy Week. As you can imagine, the floods had thrown their schedules. We had been unable to contact the Raviravi people and decided that instead of cooking lunch for 100 we should cook for 200 and take the food out to Raviravi. Serafina had just left with Columban Deacon Taaremon Matauea to take the rice and curry and water to the walkers when the Prime Minister arrived.

Prime Minister Frank Bainaimarama chatting with Fr Donal McIlraith

Many of our guests were from hill villages such as Navala near Ba. They had come with crops, fruits and vegetables to sell and were caught in town by the floods. All transport was cancelled and many roads were also damaged. Slowly things returned to normal and as the roads open up, they will all leave the basement and we will close the Kitchen.

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