Saturday, 16 January 2021


Adversity making the will to help those less fortunate stronger

The Covid-19 lockdown has created ongoing uncertainty and hardship the length and breadth of New Zealand. It has understandably forced many to focus strongly on their own health and wellbeing, as well as those who are closest and dearest to them.

It’s a time when it’s easy to say “charity begins at home” and let the ongoing daily hardships some people in other less fortunate countries face, slip well into the background. They are the threads which can be picked up later when life returns to some form of normality.

But for Whitianga locals, Ian and Raewyn Diprose, now is not the time to turn their backs on what has become many years of hard work and dedication providing a better standard of living for people in the remote areas of Fiji.  What started as a mission to provide a better place of worship in the village of Nakalavo, has expanded into ongoing projects to improve housing, health and hygiene standards, along with helping to raise both the education and skill levels of all age groups.

Ian and Raewyn’s journey started in 1978 when they attended bible college in Tauranga with three pastors from Fiji. A visit to Fiji to work in one of the churches and to reunite with Emosi, one of the Fijian pastors they met in Tauranga, soon followed.

Twenty-five years later while holidaying in Fiji, Ian and Raewyn once again sought out Emosi along with his wife, Meme, and discovered first-hand the terrible condition of the homes and the church in their village of Nakalavo.

Ian and Raewyn decided to gather voluntary help from within their own circles and to work on a financial plan to ensure the best possible long-term outcomes for Emosi and his family, along with the village and the wider community.  

By 2004, a team of 12 volunteers from four New Zealand churches, including the Whitianga Baptist Church, had arrived in Nakalavo and spent a week rebuilding the church walls, installing a septic tank, building a shower and toilet, re-roofing the pastor’s house and rewiring the church and two houses. In addition, a host of home essentials were gifted to the village as well.

That work has continued with groups heading to Fiji in the following years on an as-needed basis as well as providing much needed ongoing financial support.

“Over the years several containers loaded with items such as computers, printers, clothing and building supplies have been shipped to Fiji to help support local schools, villages and individuals,” says Ian. “We have also made a long-term commitment to fund education and studies toward furthering bible training for those wanting to become pastors.”     

There are never any free lunches either for the New Zealand volunteers. “Our first trip in 2004 was an all-male affair that housed themselves in tents, but over the years that has expanded to basically include anyone who is prepared to roll up their sleeves and get the job done,” says Ian. “Volunteers are self-funded, dipping into their own pockets for airfares, food and travel costs. Plus it’s not unusual for individuals to leave behind a suitcase full of clothes or a gift of some sort.”

To fill a container of much needed goods takes a great deal of generosity from the community. “So many individuals and businesses here in Mercury Bay alone have contributed to the cause,” says Ian. “Too many to name, but without their generosity many of the village people in Fiji would not enjoy their current standard of living. To now have bathroom facilities for every house in Nakalovo for example, after many years of going without, is a real blessing. Local Mercury Bay donations have also included rugby balls, jerseys and netball uniforms for the school children.”

The biggest ongoing fear for many living in the South Pacific Islands, including Fiji, is cyclones. When they reach landfall, they generally create havoc, but thankfully many of the houses and buildings in the villages Ian and Raewyn, and all the volunteers have worked on, have withstood the full force of the likes of Cyclone Winston in 2016 and Cyclone Harold in recent weeks.

“What is out of our control, however, is the ongoing serious damage often sustained to the root and tree crops,” says Ian. “This creates ongoing long-term problems for food and supply in the markets. To assist with the recovery from the last cyclone, we have been able to send funds to Fiji to pay for materials to repair some of the damage and so that food parcels can be supplied to every family and home in the villages of Nakalavo and Nanoka. We are truly grateful for the ongoing support that has enabled funds to be available to assist at this time.”

So while we slowly head towards a life with less Covid-19 restrictions and begin to put the dark lockdown days behind us, spare a thought for the work that people like Ian and Raewyn continue to do.

In their case, adversity is certainly making the will to help those less fortunate stronger.

Pictured: Through the generosity of Whitianga locals, Ian and Raewyn Diprose, and many others, every family and home in the villages of Nakalavo and Nanoka received food parcels to help them recover from the damage caused by recent Cyclone Harold.    


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