Sequim family gathers Fiji cyclone relief funds

SEQUIM — Connie Durant and her family haven’t been focusing so much on whether it’ll be a white, wet or sunny Christmas weekend on the North Olympic Peninsula.

They’re thinking of a faraway island they left two years ago, a place called Kadavu.

The island, part of the Republic of Fiji in the South Pacific, was hit Dec. 14 by a cyclone that killed at least four, wrenched innumerable trees from the earth and unleashed intense flooding.

Rapid fundraising

Durant, her husband Joe Marlow and their daughter Alex, still in touch with friends from the three years in which they lived on Kadavu, mounted a rapid fundraising campaign — and found others who readily shifted their thinking about what “season of giving” means.

Friends and family across Washington state, Oregon, California and Hawaii have donated a total of $1,785, Durant said Wednesday afternoon, toward the goal of $5,000.

The contributions will be put into a special Cyclone Project bank account recognized by the District Provincial Council and the Fijian government, she added.

Earlier this year, Durant and Marlow formed a nonprofit, Kadavu Connection, and two of its Fijian board members will work with local leaders to prioritize survivors’ needs.

Many Fijians are subsistence farmers whose plots of land are deluged, Durant said.

“These people live with very little to start with, so a cyclone which devastates crops has a very far-reaching effect on the villagers. Not only is their daily food source gone, but their ability to raise money by selling their crops is put on hold.”

Small donations make a difference, Durant added. .

For the Durant-Marlow family, this week has been an inspirational one.

People happy to give

“I can sense from the people giving to this cause that they are happy and even relieved,” Durant said, “to see some of their expenses during the holidays going to people who really need the assistance for basics such as food and shelter.”

One supporter, a student at Washington State University, received $100 in holiday money from her relatives. She passed the whole amount on to the Fijians, added Durant.

And Alex, 17, has so far pitched in $40 of the money she earned at the Freedom Farm, where she works with horses for a few hours each week.

‘They needed it’

The reason is simple.

“I know they needed it,” Alex said, adding that moving to Kadavu changed her perspective on what “need” means.

At holiday time, “we just made each other gifts. There was no big spending spree,” she said.

On her Web site devoted to fundraising for Fijian relief, www.Kadavu Connection.org, Durant writes that she first fell in love with the people of Fiji when she took a backpacking trip there in the 1980s.

She, Joe and Alex moved to Kadavu in 2004 and lived in a grass shack on the beach for three years.

After selling a house in California and accumulating some savings, “we used that to take a break and get back to basics,” Durant said.

She found the people of Kadavu “nothing less than warm, generous, accepting and loving.”

In 2007, the family decided to move back to the United States so Alex could attend high school here and so they could be closer to family on the West Coast.

They chose Sequim for its natural beauty and small town feeling, Durant said. She and her husband run Marlow Metalworks, a metal art and furniture fabrication business, while Durant works part time at the Cedars at Dungeness golf course.

And last July, Durant organized a cultural exchange and service trip to Kadavu. She brought 17 people, most of them teenagers from Sequim, to the island where they delivered some $9,000 worth of computers, school supplies and donations for scholarships.

To find out more about the Kadavu cyclone relief effort, phone 360-683-2249 or e-mail Durant and Marlow at [email protected]

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected] news.com.

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