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PM welcomed to rebuilt Fijian high school

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 10/06/2016 Sarah Robson

The village of Naiyala, about an hour's drive on winding, hilly roads from Fiji's capital Suva, was almost completely destroyed by tropical cyclone Winston.

The category five storm smashed into Fiji just a little over three months ago, leaving 44 people dead and a trail of destruction in its wake.

Roofs were torn from buildings by winds of up to 300km/h, essential infrastructure suffered critical damage, and many Fijians found themselves homeless and sheltering in evacuation centres.

When Winston hit, New Zealand was among the first of Fiji's neighbours to respond, sending both financial aid and practical help.

It was one of the first major tests of the renewed relationship between the two countries.

More than 500 defence force personnel were deployed to Fiji in the immediate aftermath of the disaster to help pick up the pieces and begin the rebuild.

Major General Tim Gall, who headed up the defence force's Operation Pacific Relief, said one of the things the Fijian government was determined to do in the days and weeks after the cyclone was create a sense of normality for the people.

That meant the priority was on getting schools, health clinics and community facilities rebuilt and back up and running.

"Once the kids were back at school the parents could then get on cleaning up their crops or rebuilding their house," Maj Gen Gall told NZ Newswire.

In Naiyala that meant Kiwi soldiers were tasked with helping the Fijian authorities put a roof back on the local high school.

"The main effort was rebuilding the school, the kindergarten and the health clinic," Maj Gen Gall said.

"This village was almost completely destroyed and those were the priorities the Fijian government had."

On Friday afternoon, Prime Minister John Key was welcomed to Naiyala High School to see the rebuilding work first-hand.

Students waving Fijian and New Zealand flags lined the driveway down to the school's main buildings.

Children sang the New Zealand national anthem and Mr Key received a traditional sevusevu before being shown around some of the rebuilt classrooms.

Fiji's Education Minister Mahendra Reddy paid tribute to the contribution New Zealand made in helping to rebuild a number of Fiji's schools.

He said while they are still struggling to restore a sense of normality in some areas, the generosity of New Zealand would be remembered for years to come.

New Zealand's total aid contribution to Fiji has topped $15 million.

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