New Opportunities in Fiji

A Hundred Year Wait for a Migrant Community

Life for Azalea and her young brother is an open book. They are inquisitive and free to explore a familiar neighbourhood. For their parents it has been a different story. They have grown up in uncertainty and on the edge of Fijian society. Descendants of families brought from Wallis and Futuna to build Fiji’s Roman Catholic Cathedral more than a hundred years ago, they have learnt the lessons of quiet resistance – but at a cost. Joe the president of the Villa Maria community now 62 and a fifth generation occupant of the land can now report on some progress.

A French priest set up the original workers and their families on five acres where many have remained. Now with more than 100 people living in 15 homes and with the support of CWS partners, a new agreement has been made with the Church. The community can stay on part of the land and the Church will build accommodation for retired priests on the rest. In return they will care for the priests as part of their community. One home will be removed and rebuilt, and they will be allowed to build seven new houses.

This agreement meant that Villa Maria could apply for electricity and water connections for the homes of the direct descendants of the original families. The community has set aside money for the set up costs and although approval was granted in December 2011 they were still waiting to be connected to the national grid at the end of June 2012.

In the meantime they run a small generator for basic needs. It is not enough to provide light in the evenings for children to study, to iron school or work clothes much less run a computer or television.
The lack of light adds to their anxiety. It is very dark on the pathways and they worry about their own and their children’s safety. Houses are crowded and young families dream of a place of their own. Employment can also be irregular and the children more likely to drop out of school.

Water is a similar story. Eight households share Joe’s water meter. It provides drinking and some household water. The mothers find life especially hard. They often wake at 4 am to light a kerosene stove to heat the iron for the work and school clothes. Each day they can cook for two to three hours, sometimes making extra roti. Selling roti from their homes or on the street earns them much needed money. The women also run a small canteen.

For Azalea and her brother the agreement offers new opportunities for a better future.
“We want to develop our community. Time is passing. Our children are growing up and we want them to go to greater heights. Some of us did not have an education and that is why we are where we are now. So we want our children to have a good education and greater opportunities,” says Aisake of Villa Maria.

CWS partner ECREA (Ecumenical Centre for Education, Research and Advocacy) is working with informal (sometimes called squatter) communities in Fiji – now numbering approximately 180. In the informal settlements they live in inadequate housing and constant fear of eviction. They estimate one in 12 Fijians live in these communities without land tenure or security. Concerned about the growing numbers and the increased vulnerability of their residents, ECREA began to work with these communities, many of whom come from the agricultural sector. The new settlers can quickly put in a garden using the skills they already have, but navigating the authorities is a different matter. ECREA helps the communities sharpen their skills so they can create their own development plans.

ECREA is made up of church leaders with a strong track record of campaigning effectively for the economic rights of all people living in Fiji. The youth peace and development programme actively breaks down the racial barriers between peoples and builds understanding between peoples and helps them become agents for change. In a deeply divided society, the faith and society programme is broadening the debate for an inclusive Fiji.