About 20 staff and their partners from GJ Gardner’s Rodney East franchise flew to Fiji last month to rebuild a kindergarten destroyed by a cyclone and renovate a hall for an impoverished community.
The staff, comprising project managers, sales people and office workers, headed for Lautoka, where the Housing Assistance Relief Trust (HART) houses 400 residents from disadvantaged backgrounds – many of them single mothers and children living on $5 or less a day.
In 2016, Cyclone Winston flattened the community’s kindergarten and the community’s hall was in desperate need of repairs.
The GJ Gardner team raised more than $4500 for materials via an online funding page and, once in Fiji, got to work to put things right.
Over the course of two days, they laid a new floor and installed the ceiling structure and cyclone strapping for the kindergarten. In addition, they tiled and grouted the community hall floor, painted the community hall inside and out and cleaned and repainted the insides of three homes in readiness for new tenants to move in.
Rodney East franchise owner and trip organiser Elaine Morley says she was amazed by the stamina of her team.
“It was hot, it was dirty and everyone just got stuck in and worked so incredibly hard, and we achieved so much more than we thought we were going to be able to achieve,” she says.
The community may be poor but still knows how to have fun.
She was also impressed with the hospitality of the women they were assisting. They took every opportunity to ply the visitors with food.
“We had the most incredible food. I never knew you could make such amazing cakes on an open fire.”
Although the women’s culinary skills were excellent, they struggled to maintain their homes and community buildings with virtually no men around to offer any support.
Elaine says one of the women was responsible for organising a huge meeting at the community hall in the coming weeks and was “over the moon” about the improvements that she would be able to show off to visitors.
“Just to be able to give back and to make their life a little bit easier was really fulfilling,” she says.
Elaine says travel costs for the staff and partners to visit Fiji was funded by the franchise. A trip is organised annually should the franchise meet its goals for the year.
She says Fiji was chosen this year after two staff members spoke about their experiences there building houses in poor communities.