Friday, August 29, 2008


TWO YEARS ago Leo Vucu, 17, then a Form Four student of Tabia Sanatan College outside Labasa felt despair when he received his Fiji Junior Certificate Examination results.

He had barely passed, had failed most of his subjects with the exception of woodwork, his favourite. "I felt so sad because I had achieved a very low C grade and knew I would have difficulties getting enrolled in Form Five," Mr Vucu said.

"I had tried so hard, studied so hard but still when I saw my marks I was shocked and didn't know what else I could do to improve," he added. "I was particularly unhappy knowing I could be a high school dropout and that embarrassed me. Kids can be pretty cruel in school so all these thoughts went through my mind when I saw my results."

But Mr Vucu, who thought of re-sitting Form Four, had an even bigger problem to consider. "I no longer had the interest to study the same subjects. The only subject keeping me in school was woodwork," he said.

"I totally felt nothing for Maths, Accounting or Agriculture and struggled with English yet at the same time I did not want to turn out a failure in life. I wanted to succeed, earn an income and become something in life," Mr Vucu said. At his wits end, the realisation that his passion for woodwork could very well make his future dawned on Mr Vucu.

"I love using my hands in creating things, turning plain pieces of wood into something of value so I decided not to waste any more time in high school and start working using my talent," he said.
Two years after that day, the young Rotuman proudly marched up the school ground at the Montfort Technical Institute in Savusavu in front of a huge crowd of students and parents as his name was called out to receive the Baton of Honour at the school's pass out parade.

"I faced my fear and shame of being a high school dropout, enrolled at Montfort and I am now completing my second year in a three year Certificate in Cabinet Making and Upholstery course," he said. "I am studying what I love doing and later on I intend to start my own business once I find the right amount of capital," he added. But studying woodwork comes at a price.

"Being a boarder is no easy feat. We do a lot of hard work like weeding and planting root crops," he said. "I remember my very first day at school and we had to weed a big dalo and cassava plantation from about 8.30am to 1pm. By 10.30am I had basically given up because I was so tired and the sun was so hot," he said.

"I think I even cried and all I wanted to do was go back home and then one of the senior boys told me 'sa sega ga ni rawa lesu i vale."

"But strangely those words made me determined to succeed and here I am now doing just that. I have one year to go and even though I did drop out of school, it was only to do something that I believe will prepare me for an even better future."
Adpted from Fijitimes Online

Monday, August 18, 2008


FINDING out about her Fijian heritage is one of the reasons Aurelia Ledua Ritova-Huffer is in Fiji. Aurelia, 23, was born and bred in Suva but has been living with her family in Germany.

She is of German and Fijian decent. Her mother Sulueti Ritova is from Lakeba in Lau while her father is German. Returning to her maternal roots after 14 years, Aurelia is in the country with her mother and younger sister.
Her father Dr Henning Huffer is a lawyer by profession and wrote a book in German about the mutiny on the Bounty.

He worked on producing a film about the mutiny and it was during his research and documentation of the event in Fiji that he met and married Sulueti. Her mother had a role in the film and is now sales manager at an oriental store in Stuttgart, Germany.

Commonly called by her second name in Fiji, Aurelia is second in a family of four girls. Although she wanted to be a lot of things when she was younger, Aurelia set her sights on being a journalist. "I grew up in Lami and since we went to Germany in 1990, I have been travelling back and forth.

"I am here on holiday with my mum and younger sister and I hope to find out more about my Fijian heritage, especially the language and culture," she said. "I can speak a little Fijian but I understand more than I speak. "I attended the Holy Trinity kindergarten and then went to International School in Suva.

"We moved to Germany where I attended an European school at Karlsruhe. "It is a school for children whose parents work for the European Union. "It is something similar to International except those from outside had to pay a little more than the locals."

Aurelia completed her secondary education in 2003 and worked as a trainee producer for German music television conducting interviews and learning to produce music programs. "In high school, I was the only one in my class with Fijian heritage. "My best friend happened to be half Samoan so we were the only Pacific Islanders.

"At university, I am the only part-Fijian and it is something I am proud of. "Suva has changed a lot from the last time I was here. "It is more advanced than before and there are shopping malls."

Aurelia said the challenges of working in the media industry taught her a lot in terms of being efficient, productive and most importantly a confident, independent individual. With determination tucked up her sleeves, Aurelia continued her tertiary education at the University of Heidelberg, one of Germany's prestigious and oldest universities.

"I am completing my degree in llanguage and linguistics, majoring in English. "Higher education in Germany is not expensive. "I also work for a professor in the linguistic department at school.
"I help her with research on different dialects and language. "So while I am here, I want to learn as much as I can about the way Fiji-English is spoken and taught.

"One thing I notice is the difference in cultures, German and Fijian. "Here, everything is more relaxed. "In Germany, the life is fast-paced and modern." She said families in Fiji were very close-knit with the inclusion of extended families.

Unlike Fiji, most families in Germany were nuclear families and only on certain occasions such as weddings or funerals did the family members get together and meet. Despite this, Aurelia believes she has the best of both cultures and is proud to be exposed to the different backgrounds.

Her desire to discover this side of her life is an inspiration for many part-Fijians. Aurelia might be 23 years old and still in school but she has this indescribable desire to bring out the best of her cultural heritage both German and Fijian.

"My advice for young people is to stay in school and if you have fun be sure to get your priorities right. "Balance fun and school, think of the future and work hard to achieve your aim in life."

Aurelia will leave the country at the end of the month but has her eyes set on returning to Fiji after she graduates from university next year.

Adpted from Fijitimes Online

Thursday, August 14, 2008


At his village, they affectionately call him the joka ni pulu. It could be translated as 'master of the bullocks'.

Savirio Toloi, 15, only smiles when he hears that name and coaxes his cows on, dragging a roughly hewn cart loaded with bags of copra. The dried copra bags were headed for the riverbanks, about two miles from the village where they would be loaded onto outboard powered boats headed for the market.

Savirio provides a crucial service for the copra farmers at Naduru Village and Valetokani settlement in the jungles of the Dogotuki District in Vanua Levu.

From morning till dusk, he carts cargo, to and from the riverbanks to the village and settlement, an important task in the absence of a proper road. He kept to himself, shyly avoiding our visiting party but when I did talk to him he relates a cruel twist of fate that changed his life.

Last year Savirio was in Class Eight, had passed his exams and looked forward to a new school year as a Form Three student with new friends to make and new things to learn. However, just a few weeks before school early this year, he woke up with an immense ear ache. Things seemed to go downhill from then on for this teenager.

A day later doctors discovered a boil in his ear, gave him an injection but the next day he was partially paralysed. "I couldn't walk or talk and I was just so scared I would die. I didn't know what was happening to me. The left side of my body was paralysed. All I did was cry," Savirio relates.

His mother, Ilisapeci Damiano sits close by listening to her son relate the frightful events that unfolded early this year. "He was in and out of hospital. He was even admitted at the Suva hospital. They all said he had been given the wrong medication. He couldn't go to school so we decided not to enroll him for the new school year. I think that disappointed him the most," Mrs Damiano said.

When Savirio finished his last day at the hospital, he came home shy and withdrawn. "Most times he didn't want people around him. He stayed indoors a lot because he was ashamed of the way the left side of his lip drooped from the paralysis. He couldn't speak properly," Mrs Damiano said.

"He didn't want to go to school after that because he feared the students would bully him, and tease him so he decided to spend this year at home." As the days grew into months, Savirio's health improved.

Over time, exercise and a healthy diet strengthened his limbs and the paralysis wore off. "Now my lips seem to pull to the left side but although I am sad and angry this happened to me, that I had to leave school, hope never left me. Deep within I wanted to get better and I did everything I could," he said.

While at home, the teenager helped out his parents who are copra and yaqona farmers. "Early in the morning I plant cassava, go out to fetch copra and help my parents with all household chores. But the best thing I like doing is carting cargo to the river bank. I enjoy walking the cows and bullocks," he said.

Although his life has been struck by tragedy, Savirio plans to resume school next year. "I'm just taking time off to recover. I want to go back to school next year because that is a way out of the hard life that we live out here in the village. Yes, you are right that my life has been struck by tragedy but I think that I have learnt a great lesson. Now that I have been at home, I now realise just how tough life can be for my parents as farmers so I want something different.
More than ever now I value education and how important it is. I even miss it. "That's why I am looking forward to next year."
Adpted fom Fijitimes Online