In a rural Fijian town well off the tourist map, hundreds of school children were dancing, singing and celebrating the long awaited re-opening of their school during a traditional handover ceremony.
CAPTION: Teachers and students of Lekutu Secondary School during the official handover ceremony to celebrate the completion of the reconstruction project in Vanua Levu, Fiji on July 21. Story by Captain Sarah Kelly. Photo by Corporal Lisa Sherman.
The Lekutu Secondary School was destroyed by tropical cyclones Yasa and Ana in 2020, but has been reconstructed in a combined effort between the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, ADF, New Zealand Defence Force and French Armed Forces in New Caledonia.
Students recommenced their studies immediately following the ceremony, and School principal Suresh Sharma said the excitement was palpable.
“The damage was so extensive we had to close the school down and that meant the children had to travel up to 95km to attend other schools each day,” Mr Sharma said.
“This was really tough but today we celebrate a new beginning as we witness the completion of what the power of humanity can do when used for good.”
Australian High Commissioner to Fiji John Feakes, attended the ceremony and said in his opening address: “When I saw the sheer devastation of the school after the cyclone had struck it became very clear to me that the Australian Government had a role to play in rebuilding the school.”
The rebuilding efforts of the multinational construction engineering team began in August 2021, with phase one of the project involving initial earth works, laying the foundations and concrete slab and building the classroom walls.
Phase two started in April and focused on finalising walls, installing the roof, and completing electrical and plumbing works as well as the interior.
The school now has two school buildings each hosting three classrooms able to withstand future cyclones and severe weather events.
Corporal Benjamin Humbler, a foreman plumber from the 6th Engineer Support Regiment, worked on the construction during phase two and said the opportunity to learn from one another strengthened the working relationships between forces.
“It’s a great honour to be over here and to have had the opportunity to work on something so special,” Corporal Humbler said.
“The opportunity to share and learn different building techniques was really rewarding, the Fijian’s taught us a new rendering technique and we taught them some carpentry skills.”
The reconstruction of education infrastructure is part of the ADF’s enduring commitment to Fiji and builds on our longstanding history of cooperation and friendship between our two countries.
But, most of all, the work of the construction engineering team will give the Fijian students access to education, to better prepare them for their futures as Fijian leaders.
Lekutu Secondary School student, Sham Prasad, expressed his gratitude.
“I cried when I saw what the cyclone had done to my school but now I can’t wait to come to school and see all of my friends again. Thank you Australia.”