FORTY-EIGHT-year-old Litia Natanui is leaving behind a career as an early childhood teacher to become a community-based rehabilitation officer for the Fiji Disabled People Association.
The Vutia villager in Rewa Province has finally called it quits after serving as a kindergarten teacher for the last 16 years.
"I want to concentrate on this especially since this is a relatively new thing for many people in my province as many do not know what people living with disabilities go through," Litia says.
Litia has lived with disabilities her whole life and despite the challenges, has managed to live life relatively unhindered by this fact. She is also the president of the Rewa branch of the Fiji Disabled Persons Association.
"I believe that a lot still needs to be done especially in making villagers in the province aware of what these people go through and they need to know what these people think," Litia says.
Her lifelong journey to reach this point began as a young girl in Lomaivuna where she grew up and went to school. After completing her high school in Lomaivuna High she moved on to the then Fiji Institute of Technology for secretarial studies. Later she moved on to the Nasinu Teachers College, now the FNU Nasinu campus, and finally graduated from the University of the South Pacific with a certificate in early childhood education.
She began her kindergarten teaching career at her village in Vutia before she moved on to Dilkusha within a space of a year and then in 1996 when Tavuya Village, also in Rewa decided to start their own kindy, she did not hesitate.
"I have been here ever since and now I will be leaving soon for this new job," Litia says.
The choice to leave is straightforward as she has just found out in a survey she conducted within the Rewa Province, including Beqa that there are over 120 people living with disabilities in the whole province which has 54 villages.
"Most of these people hide their needs as people do not ask them of what their needs are and they do not have anyone to share their stories of what they want."
Litia is worried the most about those people living with disabilities who need more care and support from their families and friends.
She adds many of the friends and relatives of the people living with disabilities do not understand them and she wants to educate people on this issue.
"I also want to raise awareness about living with people who have disabilities to tell people what we can do," Litia says.
Her main concern is that the porovince does not have a special school for people living with disabilities and the nearest ones are in urban areas which they cannot afford.
"I have been talking to some schools in the area already and with the move towards inclusive education I believe that is something we can try," Litia says.
Through the parent disabled people's body in Suva, Litia had managed to secure an $8000 boat and outboard engine which was funded by AusAID and she uses this to visit people living with disabilities living in other villages in the Rewa province.
With the help of the Rewa Provincial Council and AusAID, Litia has been given an office space at the provincial council office at Lomanikoro Village. AusAID paid for the computers and printer for her office.
She will start her work very soon on this project where she wants to bring hope to her fellow disabled people of Rewa.
In the meantime, the outboard and punt she was given are used to ferry primary schoolchildren from Tavuya and Nukui villages to attend schools in Nukui, Tavuya and Vutia. This is a great help for these two villages because hiring water taxis is usually expensive in the Rewa area because of high fuel costs.
The overland route easily turns into a bog whenever it rains and the 45-minute walk usually exhaust both, parents and students.