Untouchable Village Built by Australian Man for Fiji’s Poor Subsists
As the wind begins to slow down and the sea becomes calm – Cycle Winston, a category five super storm that landed in Fiji last February 21 has finally departed leaving distraught in the country. But a village designed and built by an Australian man had barely received a scratch from the wrath of the cyclone.
Koroipita, a small town on the north-west coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, a home to some of the country’s poorest people are already cleaning up after the Cycle Winston. But it is not like those overly shattered houses that we see in other parts of the country hit by a cyclone. Rather, what you see are handful of men repairing small section of a collapsed retaining wall.
Moreover, of the 230 houses that was built, none of them received any significant damage. What is more is that this houses are just economical and low cost, which are basically cheap. But this sturdy houses remained to stand despite the strong winds and rains brought by Cyclone Winston.
With the mission and aim, “To give impoverished families an opportunity to break free from the cycle of poverty and provide an improved quality of life for them and their children, by designing and developing fully serviced subdivisions, with affordable and durable housing, supporting their education and providing long term development programmes for self-sustainable communities,” the Koroipita Project is best described as Rotahomes project which is an on-going project to build low cost housing to ease living conditions for underprivileged families.
The man behind the scene is Peter Drysdale and his crew, including residents, and many other overseas volunteers. Drysdale explained why the houses were so strong by pointing to the roof of one of the structures.
“Have a look at this connecting roof. You can see the strapping details. We use about 14 coils of steel strapping in every house. And we used about 58 kilograms of nails. It’s all in the fixings,” he said.
Currently Peter is the local Sheriff, builder, and social worker. This model town is just a small sample of the homes Peter has built in the North Western area of Fiji – 913 in total over some 25 years. The project is formally administered by the Board of the Koroipita Model Town Charitable Trust.
The first town, termed as Stage 1 (K1), has 85 homes which were not built to K2 standards. K2 involved the construction of around 150 simple, timber framed and steel class homes each with a kitchen/shower and toilet block. K3 is approaching construction phase which includes a programme to strengthen all K1 houses. Drysdale designed the small, simple houses to be tough after decades spent rebuilding cyclone- damaged homes in rural parts of Fiji.
“All the way from the pile, the stump, there is no weak connection all the way through to the top of the roof. There is 1,000 roofing and wall screws that go into one house. Roofing screws, not nails,” he said.
Strict rules apply for conduct within the compound, which is leased from local owners, and a series of teams or groups share responsibility for managing the village, all overseen by Headman Peter.
Drysdale said the houses in Koroipita could be built in five days and cost just $13,000 each. The design could also be useful elsewhere in the Pacific to deal with other potential natural disasters.
“It’s more than just houses, this is a community we built here, and it’s a complete holistic solution for settling people moving into the cities and urban drift,” he said.
Furthermore, villagers thanks Drysdale for saving their homes. Hence the name Koroipita, which grew from residents keen to acknowledge the tremendous amount of input Peter has contributed to their lives.
Ashika Kumar lives in one of the houses in Koroipita with her six young children. She said it was a terrifying experience when Winston struck, but she and her family were safe inside their house.
“In time this is a very critical model for settling large numbers of people due to climate change as climate change refugees,” Drysdale added.
Progress is now on many different fronts besides home building. One of Rotary’s project partners, NZAP (New Zealand Aid Projects) are continuing their budgeted funding through their agent Habitat for Humanity Fiji on house materials, staff and community wages, septic/sewerage, roads and a major focus on community development.
“Community development is the heart of the project,” said Susan Naidu, the Community development Manager.
In recognition of his tireless, selfless work caring for disadvantaged Fijians and the provision of low-cost housing for disadvantaged Fijians, through his Koroipita Model Town Charitable Trust, Peter Drysdale, a dual Australian and Fijian citizen, was recognized in Australia with an Order of Australia medal in January, 2015.