Author: admin
• Saturday, September 10th, 2016

Posted Sept 11th

We waited all morning for the shipping company to bring the remaining 15 boxes of books to our house but had an uneasy feeling about it, as promises in Fiji can be very ‘flexible’! We phoned to ask when they would be coming, but the right person couldn’t be located & nobody seemed to know anything. On top of that, there was the risk that if the boxes stay at the warehouse beyond today, Friday, then we could be charged storage fees….

Finally, I decided I need to go back to Pacific Agencies warehouse & so started walking up the hill from our house, hitch hiking any passing cars, as I usually do. A few cars went by but didn’t stop; then a nice-looking little red car almost stopped. In fact he braked but then hesitated & decided to carry on, so I ran after it, prompting the driver to eventually stop! I thanked the driver for stopping & then commented that he evidently wasn’t very used to stopping to pick up hitch hikers!

He replied, ‘No, it’s the first time I’ve ever picked anyone up!’

I said, ‘Well, no need to worry: I’m not a terrorist but a missionary!’

That immediately changed everything! He explained that he was on his way to Hawaii to do a missionary training course. I said that we know someone that just came back from that same course, (the son of our charity trustees), & so it turned out that these 2 know each other very well! We straightaway became good friends & as soon as I told him, (his name’s Tim), about the problem with collecting our boxes of books, he immediately volunteered to go & collect them. We ended up doing 2 carloads & bringing everything back to our house, with Tim carrying everything. It’s funny that he was originally on his way to the gym, but the Lord had a different type of work-out for him, ha!

So all’s well that ends well & we’re super happy that we don’t have to go back to anymore shipping or customs offices, Praise the Lord! And thanks again to John, Heather & Joy for all their hard work in collecting all those books & surmounting numerous obstacles to get them on their way to Fiji!

As mentioned before, we have a list of 24 top priority, cyclone-damaged primary schools to donate books to, given to us by the Ministry of Education. Also another list from the department in charge of kindergartens. Most of these schools are far from the capital, in Koro island, Vanua Balavu island & Taveuni island, & so we’re trying to put together a plan of how to get the books to all 24 of these remote schools. Please keep us in your prayers!

Category: Weekly Blog  | Comments off
Author: admin
• Sunday, September 04th, 2016

Posted September 4th

Susan & I were away from Fiji for one year due to medical reasons. We’re happy to announce that we’re now back though, & will have a lot to share in the coming months as we actively reach out to bring library books to village schools damaged by Cyclone Winston!

To start off with, here is the story of collecting 26 large boxes of books, sent from Townsville, Australia by our good friends, John & Heather! As you may remember from previous posts, this lovely couple stayed with us 2 years ago & came on one of our primary school book distributions. Seeing the need for educational materials in village schools, & the great appreciation shown by both students & teachers, they decided to start collecting books from primary schools in the Townsville area. They had a number of obstacles to overcome along the way, but were able to surmount them & get the books sent down to Melbourne, where O’Brien Customs & Forwarding kindly donated the onward shipping to Fiji, as they have done several times in the past.

John & Heather sending the 26 boxes

Here’s the story of the shipment’s arrival, as related to John & Heather:

 

On August 24th we went to Pacific Agencies bright & early and soon found out that they were not very helpful as they asked us to pay FJD200 — for unloading & transporting the shipment 1 km from the port to their storage warehouse, plus documentation & VAT. We showed them our voluntary work & explained that up until now, every freight company has always waived these charges as it’s a charity project & the books are for free distribution to village schools damaged by Cyclone Winston. We explained that we can’t really do charity work in Fiji unless local companies get behind us & help facilitate etc etc. They were remarkably hard-hearted though & only reduced the amount to FJD165. Surprising, as helping Cyclone Winston victims usually generates a lot of sympathy.

Next came Customs. As expected, they insisted that they would have to conduct an evaluation & that we would have to pay duty on all the books. We explained that we’re a registered charity & that the books are for poor village schools etc etc, so they said we’ll need to get a letter of exemption from Firca head office: that’s Fiji Inland Revenue & Customs Authority, located completely on the other side of Suva.

Once there we were told that we’ll need to get a letter from the Ministry of Education, authorizing the project & making an official request for help. They also said I’ll need clearance from the Ministry of Finance!! We know from experience that this is not true: all we needed was someone senior enough to sign an exemption on the shipping waybill. Finally, to make a long story short, I found a higher level manager & he signed the document!! Great!

This process took the whole day though, so we went back to Pacific Agencies the next morning to collect the boxes. However, the Customs people there couldn’t believe that the exemption was genuine or couldn’t seem to accept it. We asked them to phone & verify, & eventually the problem seemed to be resolved. There were more forms to fill out & documents to photocopy, as well as a physical inspection of 5 of the boxes. I was also told I’d need to clear BioSecurity, but that the person responsible was out of the office & wouldn’t be back for another 3 hours!

After I’d filled out all their forms & photocopied all our supporting documents, Customs changed their minds & said that they’d looked again at the rules & that we would definitely need to pay duty on all the books!! They’d been in touch with Firca head office & someone there decided that charity books don’t come under the exemption guidelines!! They passed the phone so that the message could be spelled out to us personally…..we didn’t want to listen to all that so told them we’re coming over to discuss it again.

So another trip over to Firca on the other side of town!!! We again met with various officials & we all looked together at code 215 which states that items for the education of disadvantaged children in Fiji can be tax-exempted. The problem is that in other parts of the Firca handbook, it says that books are not tax-exempt. Finally, we were able to persuade them that books definitely help with the education of disadvantaged children, so therefore an exemption could be made, as we have done on numerous other occasions. It’s a great pity that Firca’s tax guide is rather ambiguous on this point, with the final decision being left up to the individual. Nobody wants to get in trouble for letting something through the net that should have been taxed, so it’s very hard to get anyone to sign the exemption, even though they can clearly see that it’s a good cause….

Back to Pacific Agencies again, where the Customs agent could hardly believe that I got her decision overturned! She was back on the phone, seeking clarification & still said that I couldn’t take the boxes until the Firca head office computer & her computer had ‘linked’ (?). So another half hour for BioSecurity clearance (only FJD5) & computer linking & finally I could take the books after 2 whole days of running around!

first 11 boxes arrive by taxi

I managed to ask Vanguard, a sister-company of Pacific Agencies, to donate transport of the boxes to our house, but they said they could only do it with their (small) company car & maybe not until tomorrow; also that probably all the boxes wouldn’t fit in. I therefore put 11 boxes in a taxi (much cheaper than hiring a truck) & brought them back to our centre…..

To be continued

Category: Weekly Blog  | Comments off
Author: admin
• Sunday, March 13th, 2016

copied from ‘Good News Blog’ March 5, 2016

Julie:

Some of you might have heard about Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji a couple of weeks ago.

One article stated:

Tens of thousands of people in Fiji are living in evacuation centres after Cyclone Winston tore across the South Pacific country last week, the United Nations Children’s Fund has said.

The total number of people forced from their homes in the archipelago nation of more than 300 islands is expected to be much higher as many fled to relatives and are not included in the data.

Cyclone Winston, the worst storm recorded in the southern hemisphere, left 42 people dead, according to Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office. The category-five storm also left many without water and it could be weeks before electricity is restored in some areas.—The Guardian

We wrote Peter and Susan, our faithful, long-time missionaries that have been serving in Fiji, to see how they’ve been faring since the cyclone hit.

Here’s what they said:


By Peter and Susan, Fiji

Cyclone Winston is the worst cyclone in Fiji’s recent history, with many dead and so much physical destruction. However, our charity center was mostly untouched, except for minor damage in our garden. Damage to our friends’ homes has also been very minimal.

Please pray for those who have lost their homes and personal belongings…

We need restoration of water and electricity, and sunny weather to dry up the mess left after the heavy rains and floods so that cleaning and restoration can get underway.

Please also pray for a new shipment of educational material coming from Australia. There have been many logistical problems involved at every step, so we need a miracle to help it to come through.

We’d appreciate your prayers for the distribution of material that we already have on hand. These books will be a big blessing to the village schools and outer islands that have lost everything.


Thank you for your prayers for Fiji during this time, and especially for praying for Peter and Susan and the big job they have to do in the midst of so much devastation.

If you’d like to send a donation to Peter and Susan, to assist in the work that they’re doing, you can send your gifts via  PayPal to marieangegouy@yahoo.fr.

Thanks again for your support and prayers.

Father of nine Patemosi Basaga lost his wife and all his crops. (Photo: Robert McKechnie/Save the Children)

One of the Basaga children after the devastation of Cyclone Winston. (Photo: Robert McKechnie/Save the Children)

Fijian woman Kalisi holds her son Tuvosa, 3, as she sits on a bed in the remnants of her home damaged by Cyclone Winston in the Rakiraki District of Fiji's Ra province, February 24, 2016. (Reuters/UNICEF-Sokhin)

Category: Weekly Blog  | Comments off
Author: admin
• Monday, January 04th, 2016

posted Jan 4th 2016

colourful tuktuk

From Berastagi, the ‘volcano town’, we took a bus & tuktuk to Lake Toba where we planned to spend the next few weeks. It’s the largest volcanic lake in the world & is supposed to be one of the most scenic places in Sumatra with little fishing villages, ferries criss-crossing the lake & a beautiful backdrop of huge hills all around.

 

Instead the whole experience was severely compromised by Indonesian HAZE from nearby forest fires that obscured any chance of seeing any noteworthy views. We hoped that during the 3 weeks we would spend in the area, the grey sky might turn to blue, but it never did!

In fact this is a yearly phenomenon caused by slash-&-burn farming methods to quickly cut down rain forests & replace them with quick-profit palm oil plantations. This year the problem was worse than ever, leading to 6 Indonesian provinces declaring a state of emergency & 180,000 people being affected by respiratory illnesses. However, that’s just Indonesia! The problem also spread over the rest of South East Asia during 4 months, reducing visibility in 7 countries & causing school & airport closures in 3 of them. Every year the Indonesian government promises to tackle the problem, but apparently the problem is way out of control, & even foreign fire-fighting teams from Singapore & Russia failed to make much of a dent.

typical traditional Batak houses

The best part of visiting Lake Toba, was meeting the Batak people, who are the main inhabitants in the area. They are indigenous tribes that are ethnically completely different from the rest of the country. Mostly Christian, they are famous for their amazing traditional houses, as well as elaborate & highly-decorated tombs that can be seen throughout the rice fields. They also make a potent type of rice beer called ‘tuak’, that’s of course frowned upon by the majority Muslim population!

Peter joining in on a traditional Batak dance!

 

Some other observations from the Lake Toba area:

*Buses & minibuses don’t issue tickets so you have to find out the price first & pay if it sounds about right! Similarly with many shops & restaurants: prices are seldom displayed.

*Hardly any car or bus drivers use seat belts!

*There doesn’t seem to be any lower age limit for those driving scooters, with some drivers appearing to be as young as 12.

*Hardly any motorbike or scooter drivers wear helmets.

*We hardly saw any computers or video games. Instead we were pleasantly surprised to see many people playing cards or board games to amuse themselves.

Would we recommend a visit to Sumatra? – yes, but just make sure you check the long-term weather forecast first & don’t go during the haze season!

Category: Weekly Blog  | Comments off
Author: admin
• Tuesday, December 01st, 2015

Posted Dec 1st

We were happy to get out of Medan & take a local bus to Berastagi — a scenic 3 hour bus journey up through jungle-covered slopes & little villages. The town is situated at an altitude of 1300 metres & is ‘blessed’ to have 2 live volcanoes right on its doorstep!

Mt Sinabung

 


One of them — Mt Sinabung — became very active a few years ago & has been out of bounds to visitors ever since. It was easy to understand why as on our first day in the area, the volcano put on a ‘welcoming ceremony’ by emitting a lot of ash that then came down like rain. Our clothes became covered with little grey spots & as time went on, everything became covered with a thin layer of grey ash.


Luckily the other volcano, Mt Sibayak, can still be visited. We went to the tourist information office & were quoted some exorbitant fees for a guided visit to the summit. Along with this, the official pointed to a notice behind him, listing various unfortunate foreign tourists who had unwisely attempted to circumvent the guided tour & make the climb on their own. Some were found dazed & dehydrated days later, after getting lost in the jungle. Others had apparently completely disappeared without trace, never to be seen again!

At the summit of Mt Sibayak!

 


Fortunately, our couch surfing host told us that these were ‘scare tactics’ to generate more business for the guides & that actually the path up & down the mountain was very safe & well-signposted!


We found this to be the case: after a minibus taxi half way up the mountain, it was a moderately steep 2 hour hike up to the summit, (height 2057m), passing first through lush vegetation & then volcanic ash residue. As we got closer to the top, we began to hear a lot of hissing sounds, a bit like many pressure cookers going off at the same time! The noise came from fumaroles — steam vents that could be seen all around the summit. An amazing sight!

our cabbage truck lift!

 


Coming down was quite different. After starting off on the same path, we later took the turn off to Hot Springs — a 5km narrow tarmac road to a place where the geothermally heated water had given rise to a string of ramshackle tourist resorts & guest houses with hot pools to soak in. We walked half way, before getting a ride on a cabbage truck the rest of the way — much more exciting, (not to mention cheaper), than the guided tour!


Next post: Lake Toba…..

Category: Weekly Blog  | Comments off