For most young people, turning 21 is an opportunity to indulge – throw a big party, maybe take a trip with friends.
And that was exactly what former BSSC student Jordyn Fawcett had in mind – until his friendship with Fijian migrant Iliesa Sevudredre, inspired him to take a different path.
Jordyn’s 21st birthday fell three days after Cyclone Winston hit Fiji and when he saw how his friend’s home village had been affected, he did not hesitate to change his travel plans.
“On my birthday, the 23 February, I was over at my dad’s house for dinner and he showed me photos of Ili’s village and what had happened, so I was just like ‘I gotta go over and help them’,” he said.
“In Fiji at the moment they’ve got temporary housing and the weather over there’s so abnormal, it’s just never the same, there’s torrential rains and it’s raining almost every day, so temporary housing just isn’t good enough, so they need people to help.”
What makes Jordyn’s selflessness even more remarkable is the fact that when he returns from Fiji, he will not even have a job to come back to, as the Kangaroo Flat furniture retailer he worked for has closed its doors.
“At the time my work was closing down so I thought it’d be the perfect time to go over and lend a helping hand,” he said.
“It’s not easy to find work in Bendigo, so I’m just kind of not thinking about that at the moment, this to me is more important than bills.”
Jordyn plans on staying in Fiji for at least a month, “chipping away at whatever needs doing”, but hopes to be able to stay as long as his help is needed.
“To my knowledge I can stay in Fiji for up to four months without a visa so I’m going to try and stay there until the money runs out,” he said.
In Iliesa’s home village of Lawaki, all but three of the 24 buildings were wiped out by the cyclone, and it was the closeness of the two families which inspired the trip.
“I think what really motivated me to decide to go was the fact that they’re just awesome, their whole family is awesome,” he said.
“I was at Ili’s house at 8.30 last night and we stayed up until 2.30-3 o’clock drinking kava and talking about what had happened and reading stories.
“They were showing me photos of where it hit, Koro island got hit the worst, right in the dead centre of it, that’s where I’ll be heading first.”
Iliesa said his family back home had all escaped the disaster unscathed, but the storm had left them homeless.
“The good thing is that the storm came in during the day, after lunch, but families weren’t expecting it to be that ferocious, we’re used to cyclones but that one was way big,” he said.
“Being so laid back, that’s the way we are, ‘oh we’ll just wait it out’, but it literally took everything.”
In addition to the damage to the villagers’ homes, Iliesa said Cyclone Winston had also destroyed thousands of dollars-worth of kava crops.
“We don’t keep money in the bank in the village, you keep your money in the ground,” he said.
“Whatever crops you’ve got in the ground, it’s not edible now because when the wind came it took all the leaves, and for plants to grow they need the leaves.”
Iliesa said he was initially shocked when Jordyn came to him with his generous offer to help out, but eventually agreed to organise for him to work at the cyclone’s epicentre with the Fijian Forestry Department.
“I thought he was joking about it but he said ‘nah I’m really keen to go’, I said ‘how about you just go where the brochures tell you’,
“He said ‘look I want to just go and get my hands dirty, dig in’.”
Iliesa said he warned Jordyn the trip would be no picnic, but he would not be deterred.
“I told him, what you’re going to go experience, people, your peers, tourists, don’t know, they just see the five-star thing,” he said.
“’You’re going to the real stuff, you eat what they eat, you sleep how they sleep, you sleep rough, but at the end of the day, you rise up in the morning and you see the smiles on their faces’, and he said ‘oh I’m really looking forward to go’.”
Iliesa and his wife, Marica, have been sending clothing and other goods back to his home village to help them try to return to normal life, but he said he still feels guilty for having things better than his family.
“In the evenings I go under the doona, they go to nothing, probably just sheets and the stars over their heads,” he said.
“They’ve been doing it rough, now I feel for them because I’ve been there, I was brought up there and I feel bad if I have this and they don’t, so I need to do something for them.”
The Sevudredres have been sending goods back home at their own expense, but with costs mounting, they have also set up a charitable account with the Bendigo Bank.
“We’ve been just collecting stuff from garage sales, which is clothing, stationary, cutlery, anything and everything,” Iliesa said.
“It’s costly, [but] we still need to move on and make it happen.”
Anyone wishing to help out can donate to Marica’s fundraiser with the following details.