When Tropical Cyclone Winston lashed the Pacific island nation of Fiji in February 2016, Alfred Waqa knew exactly how to respond to the crisis. Among other things, he had hundreds of trained volunteers ready to spring into action.
Waqa, a trained and experienced member of the Scientology Volunteer Minister Disaster Response program, led some 250 Fijians who fanned out in 20 villages to help victims of the cyclone, the most powerful storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere. Each one of them was a Volunteer Minister (VM) trained to expertly address people’s most critical needs—whether physical, mental or spiritual—not just during disasters but in everyday life.
The VMs distributed donated materials to the afflicted, cleared storm debris, rebuilt houses and schools, and delivered “assist technology”—techniques developed by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard to provide spiritual relief from physical and emotional trauma. Dressed in distinctive bright yellow T-shirts, the Volunteer Ministers helped some 24,200 victims and trained as many as 2,340 people to deliver assists to others.
Waqa, popularly known by his nickname “Alfy,” became a leading VM in 2012 when a group of Volunteer Ministers helped victims in the aftermath of severe floods in Fiji. In March the following year, when a tropical cyclone ripped through the neighboring island nation of Vanuatu, Alfy was on hand along with other Volunteer Ministers to provide disaster relief.
But it wasn’t until Alfy traveled to Nepal in April 2015 to assist victims of a devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake that he realized how important it is to have a well-oiled VM organization prepared not only to respond to disasters but to help Fijians deal with life’s daily struggles. By all accounts, working with VMs in Nepal, who were supported by the International Association of Scientologists, changed Alfy’s life like nothing else had before.
One of the first things that Alfy did after returning from Nepal was to form three groups of Volunteer Ministers in and around his village, Nalalawa, located some three hours by road from the capital city of Suva. Recruiting people wasn’t a problem. Many villagers in the area were already impressed with the disaster relief work Alfy and his VM team had done in 2012. What’s more, they were also aware of social media reports of the tremendous impact that VMs had made in Nepal.
To evoke further public interest in Volunteer Ministers, Alfy delivered a string of public seminars on the numerous skills and techniques that VMs acquire in their training—everything from assists to dealing with dangerous environments to improving interpersonal relationships. His first seminar attracted more than 60 attendees, including five chiefs of neighboring villages. Police personnel, schoolteachers, clergy and village elders were also in attendance.
In addition, Alfy has taken the VM tools to some 45 youth clubs, each with 30 to 50 members. At a government-organized forum, he trained some 100 youths on assist technology. Plans for expanding such training to other youth clubs are underway.
In June 2015, Alfy registered the Scientology Volunteer Minister Disaster Response program with the office of the public administrator in Rakiraki, a town about 100 miles from Suva. Since then, requests to the government for VM help are forwarded directly to local Volunteer Ministers.