03 June 2014

Laugh and cry together: the Solomon way

From L to R - Simon, Francis, Jacob, Israel: community 
coming together. © UNICEF Pacific/2014/Thakkar
Jacob Togovi is a 17-year old boy living in Kwai village in central Guadalcanal province in the Solomon Islands. He has an identical twin named Isaac. In addition, he has three sisters and another brother. Like all children in this village, Jacob and Isaac have completed primary education. But they could not continue their education since the closest secondary school is a three hour walk from their village. Instead they work with their father, Simon, to make ends meet.

On the 4th of April 2014, their house was totally uprooted and washed away by flooding. Their family did not move to an evacuation centre. Instead they lived, for a while, with their neighbours across the river. With the help of Israel Trevor Sibia (a relief volunteer from the neighbouring village), Jacob, Isaac and their father Simon rebuilt their home from scratch. Israel and Simon describe Jacob and Isaac as hardworking and committed kids, without whom the entire family would still be homeless. This is their collective story. 

We had not seen anything like this before. The river kept rising and suddenly there was a forceful gush of water. We were on higher ground helplessly looking at our home, livelihood and all our possessions just disappear – all the way downstream. We could do nothing. It was all washed away in minutes. That sense of helplessness haunted us for the next three days as it continued pouring rain. We were devastated at our loss and our minds were just blank, trying to absorb what had just happened. 

Blue remnants of Jacob's old house by the river. New home on top
of the hill. © UNICEF Pacific/2014/Thakkar
Everything was gone. We had nothing with us except the clothes we were wearing. On the fourth day when it stopped raining, we started looking for our home or whatever was left of it. We walked around for hours everyday looking for our belongings. The family’s main source of income, a cocoa beans dryer, had also disappeared in the flood. We had nothing left to start over except our fortitude and phenomenal support from our community.

After three days of searching, we came across the main structure of our house and the roof. That was a good start but it was a long walk bringing back the remnants of our home. Plus it was impossible to lug it all back together in one go. It would take numerous arduous trips up and down, spanning over days or weeks. 

Our community tends to help without any expectations but we decided to slaughter a pig, barbeque it and offer it to the youth in the village to help us build back a house.  We then gathered timber from the neighbourhood, which was not particularly difficult as the floods had uprooted massive trees. It took three weeks of hard work but we did it. We did it as a family and we did it as a community.

Now we are living in our new home built on the hill as high as possible. Fortunately, we have a vegetable garden behind the hill that was not affected by the floods. For now, we don’t have to worry about food. But with the cocoa dryer gone and the cocoa plants washed away, we are not sure how we will make ends meet. The mind draws a blank again. 

However, from our recent experience, our faith in the community is reinforced. It is the Solomon culture, Solomon way of life. Even if they lose as much as us, even if they are as helpless as we are, they will offer us a shoulder to cry on. And if it makes us feel better, they will also cry with us. All differences and conflicts of the past are forgotten and we will cry together as a community. And when life gets better, we hope  not too far in the future, we will also laugh together as we reminiscence about this experience and remember when Jacob and Isaac walked up and down and all around, looking for their home.

Neha Thakkar
Communications Officer

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