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FIJI: Salesian missionaries continue to have hope for the future in wake of coronavirus pandemic and cyclone

(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries in Fiji have not only been dealing with the coronavirus but also a Category 4 cyclone named Harold, which devastated the islands of Vanuatu and passed by Fiji, leaving a trail of damage in its wake. The April storm snapped branches and uprooted trees, shook buildings, blew away the roofs of houses and destroyed many homes. Two days of clean up followed and many people were without power for a few days.

Salesians were already in lockdown during this time. Fiji, however, has dealt better than some nations with the pandemic. To date, there have been only 18 people stricken with coronavirus and no deaths. When the first coronavirus case was confirmed on March 19 by the government, the Pacific Regional Seminary immediately went into lockdown, including all the affiliated colleges.

Salesian schools have held online classes, and lecturers were given special workshops on how to teach online. One of the biggest challenges is often slow, and at times, no internet connection and frequent power outages. Overall though, Fiji might be back to normal more quickly than other nations.

“If Fiji keeps the course, it will be able to confidently rank itself among the nations that are leading the world in stomping out coronavirus,” said Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama in a recent address. He added that Fijians must keep vigilant in the war against the virus.

Given the progress, the government has decided to ease some of the restrictive measures. On April 26, Fiji resumed all passenger inter-island travel, by air and sea and allowed social gatherings of 20 people or less. Schools will remain closed until June 12.

Salesians in Suva were in the middle of construction to build a new multipurpose community center. The new center will provide youth a place where they can learn, engage in safe activities, and connect with peers and supportive adults. With more than 44 percent of the population in Fiji under the age of 25, there are limited opportunities for employment. The community center will serve a vital role in helping these youth find the right path for their future.

The center will include a multipurpose community space, open areas for learning, a kitchen and dining area, a sporting and recreational facility, and a community garden. The idea is to make the center as self-sustainable and eco-friendly as possible.

“This project will help ensure that local youth have access to the kind of social development programs that will get them on the right path in life,” said Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco. “The new community center will be a place for youth to gather with their peers, and access life skills training and educational supports.”

Father Mikaere Leilua, a local Salesian parish priest, is overseeing the project. With restrictions on the workforce, the number of workers at the site has been reduced to 20, plus the foreman. Work on the project was progressing slowly, but now, the progress is even slower. Salesians continue to hope and work for progress.

Salesian missionaries have been a part of the Fijian community since 1999, primarily facilitating education for young Salesians from the Pacific region, as well as operating a local parish. During a visit in 2015, the Rector Major Father Ángel Fernández Artime expressed a strong desire to see the Salesian community expand to include a strong youth-focused outreach, which was a motivating factor for this community center project.



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