ONCE known as a tikina that was involved in marijuana cultivation in the country, Natewa in Cakaudrove is working towards painting a better picture for its future generations.
August 30 was a day that will be remembered by the youths of the tikina of Natewa as they converged at Nadavaci Village to celebrate National Youth Day.
It was indeed a day of celebration as 300 youths from seven villages shared ideas, experiences and dreams they had in reaching their goals in life.
Twenty-six-year-old Petero Waqa is the president of the Tikina o Natewa youth organisation and has bigger dreams to follow in pursuit of a more successful and crime free tikina.
The hardworking youth advocate dropped out of the Fiji College of Agriculture in Koronivia because of financial difficulties and returned to his island home to take up farming for a living.
"It has been challenging for my family all those years and being the youngest in a family of four siblings, I had to live up to the expectations of my family," Petero said.
He defied all odds when he started his own farm with of course the knowledge and expertise that he learnt from Koronivia.
"I have already planted about 500 dalo and 300 yaqona plants and like the other youths in the tikina, we all plan to grow bigger and better so that we are able to meet the demands of our families."
According to the Youth Advisor for the tikina and retired permanent secretary for Youth and Sports, Poasa Ravea, the youths of Natewa have been pro-active and working hard to ensure that they meet the criteria that have been set out by the bigger committee.
"There is no doubt that agriculture is the mainstay of the economy and this is an area that young people need to direct their energy and resources to," said Mr Ravea.
"Hence the idea to join the bandwagon about three years ago to celebrate National Youth Day to try and encourage the youths with their farming programmes as well as helping them realise that they have great potential to do better in life.
"Youths at this point in time matter the most because of the fact that they are rising up as leaders of tomorrow and we need them to play their roles seriously and set good examples for those that are still climbing up the ladder."
Senior Agriculture Officer (Cakaudrove) Esava Tuimoala says youth groups in Natewa have also been assisted under the Department of Agriculture's programmes which have been entailed to lift their standard of living.
"Basically, government is done with the hand-out systems and those applying for assistance should meet the criteria and guidelines that have been set," said Mr Tuimoala. "We felt that these six youth groups in the tikina had proved themselves so they were assisted with farm house materials as well as agro-inputs and they have definitely grown from strength to strength."
According to Mr Tuimoala, yaqona and coconuts are the economic drivers in Cakaudrove and youths need to be empowered to step up and increase their present production.
"Yaqona, as we all know, is a long-term crop and takes years to harvest so we are also trying to encourage the revitalisation of the coconut farms as most of the standing coconut trees are not producing enough nuts because of the fact that they are quite old," Mr Tuimoala said.
"Coconuts are in huge demand around the world because of its health benefits especially its by-products as well as virgin coconut oil and I believe that Cakaudrove has great potential in the coconut industry.
"We are grateful to be working with youth advocates like Petero as we can really hammer home the message of working hard to ensure a secure future."
As for Petero, the stakes are high as he wants to ensure that the youths in Natewa will achieve their goals.
"We need to be consistent with our programmes and ensure that the youths do not lose the objectives that have been set out and which they have already agreed to carry out in the middle and long-term."
"Our activities and programmes are agro-based as we have so much abundant land and natural resources."
"We are trying our best to get more government and non-government officials to visit the tikina and conduct trainings on the sustenance and conservation of our natural resources as well as the way forward for the youths in terms of earning income," said a determined Petero.
"It's a huge task but I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to lead the youths of the tikina of Natewa and I pledge to do my utmost best to inspire the youths to become agents of change."
Petero adds inspiring youths is a story itself but trying to help them understand their potential is another.
"Most of these youths have been abandoned by their families or are often belittled and led to believe that they cannot accomplish anything in life," says Petero.
"Through consultations and counselling, youths are taught and encouraged to become better people in their families and communities," he said.
Petero says there is so much work to be done but believes that they are well on their way to paving a brighter future for the tikina.
The Department of Agriculture will work closely with the youths of Natewa in terms of farming programmes and providing training and technical advice.
Mr Tuimoala says the department is planning to be part of the Natewa National Youth Day celebrations in a big way come 2013.
"We are hoping to showcase more agricultural displays next year as well as the various services that we provide and try and get the youths involved in government's long-term goals which is trying to respond to market forces in a sustainable agriculture context that reduces poverty, reduces the risk of food insecurity and increases contribution to GDP (Gross Domestic Product)," says Mr Tuimoala.
With the continuous developments taking place in Cakaudrove, youths of Natewa have made it their business to be agents for change.
And for the hardworking youth advocate of the tikina, if this means sleepless nights, so be it.
"This is our future we are thinking of as well as the future of our younger brothers and sisters.
"Natewa is willing to do all it can to live in a sustainable manner so that goals and dreams become reality," Petero says.
* Kuini Waqasavou is an information officer for the Ministry of Primary Industries.