Sikeli Vuli laughs as he tries unsuccessfully to remember how many times he’s fallen in the river. Until not too long ago, an accidental swim was a fairly regular occurrence for those living in the small village of Navatuyaba, near Suva, Fiji.
That’s because if you needed to go to the city, school, or local store, you would have to cross the river that snakes slowly by the village, take a long walk to the nearest bridge (about two hours), or pay hard-earned and scarce cash for a bus ride.
“I have to cross the river many times a day,” says Sikeli, 13. “My friends live across the river.”
Crossing the river was by far the easiest choice, even if it meant using an unstable raft made of a few long bamboo poles lashed together. And if there were more than a couple of people waiting, it was faster to hold your schoolbooks and school uniform above your head and swim across in clothes that could get wet, because you’d probably fall off the raft anyway.
At least, that’s the way it was before the Church waded in and helped the members put a paddle to the problem. The Church provided a boat. You’d think it was an airplane, though, by the way the members’ spirits have been lifted.
“We’re grateful for the boat,” says Litiana Delai, 12. “It’s so much easier to get to the other side.”
The Navatuyaba Branch’s boat is only one of many projects the Nausori Fiji Stake has undertaken to help the youth and other Church members. Finding a job in the area is nearly impossible for teens. Even for their parents it’s hard. That makes for a difficult situation, and the members, like most in the area, struggle to support themselves.
So why are the members so happy?
Because they know the Lord loves them.
“We know Heavenly Father cares about us because the Church is helping so much to meet our needs,” says Makereta Elder, 14.
Stake leaders have felt inspired to begin a number of programs to help support the members, and the youth are a big part of making these programs work. Apart from the boat, there’s a greenhouse, a group of new welfare farms, and even some livestock. And the youth in Navatuyaba love helping.
One sound you don’t hear much in Navatuyaba is the low rumble of industrial farm equipment. That’s changing now that the tractor owned and operated by the stake is being kept in the village.
The 17 youth in the branch are grateful for the tractor. Without it, the Navatuyaba members would have to find a way to till two acres (0.8 ha) manually. But the tractor doesn’t do all the farm work. The members all work together planting, weeding, and harvesting crops such as taro and tapioca.
“We all help on the farm,” says Kuli Qaravanua, 15. “The youth weed and plant or bring refreshments when the adults are working.”
“I like working on the farm,” says Maca Baikeirewa, 14. “It helps my family in many ways.”
The blessings of the farm aren’t just about having food to eat. The youth are learning a lot about growing food and working hard.
“I think that working on the farm has brought the youth of our branch together,” says Tulia Tinaimolikula, 18. “It has helped us learn about each other.”
But, as Kuli says, “the tractor and farm especially help us have peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about what I will have to eat tomorrow.”
As enjoyable as working together on the crops is, it’s not nearly as much fun for the youth as helping with the pigs and chickens.
The branch started out with 120 chicks, 64 chickens, and four pigs but will be expanding the chicken coop. The animals will be split between the branch and stake members. Some will be sold, some will be eaten, but they’re as much entertainment as anything else.
The chicks are cute and feeding the pigs can be fun, but the youth have learned by experience how difficult it can be to catch a pig that doesn’t want to be caught.
When the topic of the Church welfare program comes up in some countries, many youth tune it out because they don’t think it has much to do with them. For the youth of Navatuyaba, Church welfare is changing their lives through pigs and tractors, chickens and farming.
Even the boat is more than just a way to get safely across the river. By charging a few cents per passenger, the branch can pay Litiana’s family to maintain the boat. She and her siblings take shifts answering the whistle from the other side of the river whenever someone needs a ride.
“It has blessed my family,” Litiana says, smiling. “It helps us afford school supplies and food. And we pay tithing on what we earn.”
The Saints in Navatuyaba aren’t the only ones who have struggled to overcome obstacles without getting in over their heads. Through the Church welfare and humanitarian programs, the Lord provides a way for many to stay afloat during difficult times. And that’s something to smile about.
“Some people are like rocks thrown into a sea of problems. They are drowned by them. Be a cork. When submerged in a problem, fight to be free to bob up to serve again with happiness.”
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Finding Joy in Life,” Ensign, May 1996, 24–25.