After achieving independence from its colonial ruler of Great Britain in 1970, the Pacific island nation of Fiji, one of the Columban mission countries, was attempting to carve out a niche for itself in the international community.
Economic development was an important aspect for the newly independent Fiji, and many small houses and low cost apartments sprung up in Fijian towns and cities, particularly the capital of Suva. Nonetheless, the many poor and unemployed Fijians could not afford this housing.
In 1970, the Fijian Council of Churches initiated the Housing Assistance and Relief Trust (HART) program, and incorporated it as a charitable trust, and Columban Father Dermot P. Hurley became its first chairman.
The HART staff, consisting of clergy, missionaries, and lay people of many denominations, provided assistance to poor people who needed housing, and continues to do so today. Father Hurley, who had spent many years in Fiji and served on the Fiji Housing Authority, used his experience working with the poor to promote HART.
In 1995, the Fijian government awarded Father Hurley the Fijian 25th Anniversary Medal for his decades of outstanding service. HART was an important aspect of that work in Fiji.