Nesi’s story: Cyclone Gita “broke my heart into pieces”

Mele Akanesi Utumoengalo (Nesi) in front of her home in Tonga

A year ago, Cyclone Gita, with wind speeds up to 200km per hour, tore through the small Pacific island country of Tonga. CARE and our partner organisations MORDI Tonga Trust and Live & Learn Tonga immediately sprang into action, distributing much needed emergency shelter and food security items and kits. Mele Akanesi Utumoengalo (Nesi), married to Sione and mother of three daughters, is just one of the people we helped. Here is her story.

“I know that with the damage done, it can never return to what was there before. My house has been destroyed and our plantation of taro and kava has been ruined by falling coconut trees.

I thought to myself, I have lost everything. Hope has faded away. Yes, Gita has broken my heart into pieces.

A cyclone damaged building in Tonga
A home in Tonga flattened by Cyclone Gita

“But, after realising that our house was completely destroyed, within a few hours [CARE partner organisation] MORDI came in with tarps and shelter kit. This really helped and brought back the smile on my face.

I feel so special thinking that there are people out there like me who needed this kind of support and thanks to these organisations for brightening my day and helping me to face these challenges.

“As you can see from the standard of our living, we cannot afford to rebuild a proper house. Before Cyclone Gita my husband took care of our plantation site and was selling taro and kava. I stayed at home baking Tongan donuts which I delivered to the primary school. Since Cyclone Gita, a majority of our plantation is ruined.

Nesi's home in Tonga
Nesi's home in the process of being rebuilt

“We have started to plan what is needed to be done. First we are focusing on our plantation – cutting down the falling coconut trees, clearing the land and preparing the land.

Although it is a long process, my family and I need to work our way out for survival.

“We are not going to wait and we need to achieve what we are planning so that we are able to live a normal life, not just for myself and my husband but we are looking at the long run including my children and the next generation.

“Gita has taught me a great lesson… We have witnessed the high risk of hazard which no human can ever control but the level of disaster awareness and preparedness needs to be increased.

Through this, although we are poor and have a hard-life, my family will still manage to survive.

After reaching over 500 households and 3,500 people in initial emergency aid distributions, the CARE partnership continued to work with 33 communities on emergency recovery activities, reaching 10,570 people, and created a pathway to rehabilitation through gender and socially inclusive integrated shelter and livelihoods recovery activities. Support and assistance for the affected households varied according to their needs, but included support in the areas of shelter; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); food security and livelihoods. Throughout, the project focused on the participation and inclusion of all community members, including women and youth.

This project was funded jointly with other donors by ECHO (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations).

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.