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“Be strong and be yourself” Litia Masei shares her story of leading disaster resilience

29 March 2023

Litia Masei, pictured at the inaugural Local Leaders Forum for Disaster Risk Resilience. Photo: UN Women/Lydia Hollister-Jones

Litia Masei is the Chair of Lautoka District Council of Social Services (DCOSS), in Fiji. Her journey to leadership started in the home of a family in her community, when she saw first-hand the challenges they were facing during extreme weather events.

“The rain just fell in the house like a waterfall. It really struck me. They didn’t have any safe water, and they had to walk many miles to collect it. From then on, I started helping. Before even coming to DCOSS, I was helping them to get an iron roof, and then to get a water tank. It started like that,” shared Litia.

Not long afterwards, Litia volunteered as a secretary for DCOSS, the only woman in a team of 15 men. Now, she leads the team as Chair. Her close connection to her community and her commitment to caring for them is what drives her.

“It’s my passion. I love helping people,” said Litia.

Litia’s work is not confined to just daily office hours or one location. She often opens her home to people who don’t have a safe place to shelter during disasters. “The last flooding there were about three families that we were helping. Before the night of the flooding, they all came to my place. They stayed there and were able to cook together. They find it a safe space,” she said.

Litia is focused on solutions that are practical and in helping families learn how to sustain themselves. One of the initiatives that she is most proud of is the training she provides for women who live in low-lying areas in her community in Lautoka, teaching them to plant their vegetables in pots. “They lived in a flooding zone area. [Often] After a flood, we don’t have any vegetables because of flooding. We trained them to plant vegetables in pots, and when floods strike, they can move them inside, keeping them in the pot. After the flood, they can still have the bele, eggplant, and chillies,” she shared.

“When we talk as women leaders, we know exactly, from the ground up, what is going on. We observe a lot, and we learn from that, and we make it better,” said Litia.

Litia believes that women lead well during disaster response and resilience building as they have a unique insight into what their communities are going through and are more attuned to their needs. This knowledge empowers them to lead response to disasters effectively.

Litia is passionate about the leadership potential that lives within all women.

“I would tell women to be strong and be yourself. Women are great leaders.”

This story first appeared on UN Women's Asia and the Pacific regional website. 

Litia Masei shared her experience and leadership journey at a workshop that centred around celebrating local women leaders in disaster resilience, organised by Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS) in partnership with the Women’s Resilience to Disaster (WRD) Programme, supported by the Australian Government and implemented in the Pacific by UN Women and its partners.