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Salote's Sawmilling Skills Assists with Rehabilitation

Proving that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” Salote Teleni is a Government-certified chainsaw and portable sawmill operator.

The 36-year-old Namuka-i-Lau villager from Lau who was born and bred in her mother’s village in Nasegai, Ravitaki, Kadavu is the lone female chainsaw and portable sawmill operator on the island of Kadavu.

She caught the attention of the Minister for Forestry Honourable Osea Naiqamu and his officials who were on a visit in early May to validate the initial findings of a reconnaissance team following Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold’s devastating path through the island. The Ministry of Forestry had deployed portable sawmills to the islands to harvest the fallen trees and have them treated for the purpose of rebuilding homes destroyed in the aftermath of TC Harold.

Sporting overalls, and with pieces of wood chips stuck in her Fijian ‘buiniga’, the mother of six appears to feel right at home with her male compatriots in the village of Nasegai.

“We are trying to saw pine logs for the nine (9) homes that were completely destroyed in our village. So far we have completed sawing logs enough for 2 homes and we have another 7 homes to go. And, we have only 30 days to do this,” Salote said.

 Salote added that she hopes they can complete the task within the given timeframe as the portable sawmill will need be transferred to the neighbouring district for the same housing rehabilitation purpose.

Considering that it’s a rather onerous undertaking to cut trees and repurpose them into perfect building material, Salote says her contribution in helping her fellow villagers get a roof over their heads is worth all the effort, let alone the attention she gets from the curious onlookers who are often amazed at her agility to transition from her conventional motherly duties to wielding a chainsaw.

“I really appreciate Government’s quick response in helping us with our housing rehabilitation,” she said.

 Immediately after TC Harold struck, the Ministry of Forestry repaired the five portable sawmills on the island and taken across an additional four to quickly harvest the fallen trees before they are wasted by the elements.

"Government’s quick turnaround and the additional mills have encouraged the islanders to join forces and lend a hand for the sake of others, even if we do not get paid. This is what humanity is all about,” Salote said.

 “TC Harold, like many a past natural disasters, has taught us to be united in our efforts because we can achieve a lot more together,” she added.

 With the support of her husband, Salote said wearing an overall and picking up a chainsaw is becoming the new normal for her. Her six children are now used to seeing her in her overalls instead of her usual ‘sulu-vaka-toga’ or sarong and a blouse behind the stove or sink.

“My children are now used to seeing me in my overalls and carrying a chainsaw instead of the usual motherly chores I do for them at home.”

“I explained only once that I have to wear my overalls in order to help us and other people in the village rebuild their homes,” she said.

Minister for Forestry Honourable Osea Naiqamu said he was deeply impressed with the determination and unity demonstrated by the people on Kadavu to rebuild their homes after TC Harold.

“It is very encouraging seeing the combined efforts of the villagers especially that they are working in tandem with the Government teams on the rehabilitation work.

“It is also timely that the timber from the trees that were planted three to four decades ago, are now the main product with which we are using to rebuild houses damaged by the natural disasters,” Minister Naiqamu said.

There are eleven (11) Pine Schemes in Kadavu namely Ono, Tiliva, Tabanivonolevu, Sanima, Tavuki, Yawe, Solodamu, Nabala, Muani, Nasegai and Namalata and Government through the Ministry of Forestry and Fiji Pine Trust have set up portable sawmills in the following eight (8) villages : Tiliva, Nalotu, Nasegai, Muanisolo, Nukunuku, Namara, Muani, and Naqara.

There are also portable sawmills set up in Vatulele Island and Matuku in Lau.

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