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Bolatoro Sacrifices Her Christmas to Serve the Public

CHRISTMAS this year has been an exceptionally meaningful one for 27-year-old Suliana Bolatoro. Suli as she is commonly known is a forester with the Ministry of Forestry and hails from Drawa Village in the district of Wailevu West in Cakaudrove. In the past few days, she has been assisting her colleagues and other Government officials with the Tropical Cyclone Yasa rehabilitation in the Northern Division.

Also a qualified drone pilot, Suli’s assignment during this rehabilitation phase is to capture drone images of the cyclone-ravaged areas.

“My role is specifically to provide aerial information of the damages in the districts of Wailevu, Cakaudrove and in Koroalau which consists of Vunivesi Village right up to Nakama Settlement.”

Other drone teams from the Ministry and other agencies are also assigned specific areas. “We are part of the ‘eyes in the sky' team that informs the divisional disaster management coordination led by the Commissioner Northern Uraia Rainima,” she said.

The use of technology like drones is new to the Ministry, but it certainly has made her work easier.

“Our work in the Ministry in normal times has become more efficient with the use of technologies such as drones, computer tablets and online systems. Drones are now used for forest monitoring and assessments and digital maps can be made available to harvesting planners through the ministry’s webmap application.”

Suli described TC Yasa which made landfall over Vanua Levu on Thursday 17 December 2020 as one of the strongest cyclones since TC Winston in 2016 causing heavy destruction to infrastructure, buildings and agricultural areas.

There were widespread power outages and no phone network after winds of 240kilometres per hour with gusts as high as 345kilometrs per hour that brought Vanua Levu to a standstill.

“TC Yasa hit the three provinces really bad especially Bua and what hits me the most is seeing the smiling faces of people that we have visited and seeing them offer us a cup of tea or food.”

“They have already lost their homes and belongings yet people are still generous enough to share what little they have,” Suli said.

“I know for a fact we Fijians are very resilient people. We bounce back no matter how hard the situation is and we just pick up the pieces and move on.”

Suli said the response from Fijians is that they are just fortunate they are alive.

Her role as a forester is to carry out field verification of harvesting applications within her beat area and monitor all harvesting applications.

“I work with two forest guards and together we ensure the compliance of Fiji Forest Harvesting Code of Practice and the Forest Act,” Suli said.

“This post is really challenging for me as a female in terms of carrying out awareness in the communities and also attending and inspecting illegal logging, solving complaints lodged by individuals in my area of work.”

Suli said her role is to also compile Harvested Area Reports for all logged areas in the Northern Division and submit it to the Forest Reserves Assessment and Conservation division (FRAC).

“These reports are done quarterly and I also compile weekly reports of the work that has been carried out by my team.”

Even though I work in a male dominated field, I am accepted by my male colleagues and I enjoy my work very much.

Under the Government’s Open Merit Based Recruitment Selection (OMRS) the Ministry of Forestry’s work policy is based on merit and not on gender and Suli is one of 72 female staff that make up about 30 percent of the Ministry's workforce.

With the Ministry of Forestry taking a key role in the TC Yasa Rehabilitation providing aerial support and clearing debris using their chainsaw skills, the role of civil servants like Suli will have a great impact on the cyclone-affected communities.

An only child, Suli who resides in the village said her parents and relatives were surprised when she told them she would be spending Christmas at work.

“When I told my family last week that I will not be spending Christmas at home in the village, my parents were quite emotional,” Suli said.

“I reminded them that some of us are lucky our homes were not damaged and we were safe during the TC Yasa but there are many unfortunate people out there that need help.”

"From the few places I have visited I heard tragic stories of families sheltering under their homes, beds or tables while seeing their roofs blown away.”

“I know I have to sacrifice my holidays and time with my family this Christmas but it is all worth the sacrifice,” she said.

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