A YOUNG girl's dream of seeing her classmates again after the term one school break ended yesterday when she drowned while fishing in the Wainibuka River.
Dead is Kelera Marama, 11, a Year 6 student of Vunidawa Sanatan Primary School.
Marama had accompanied her uncle, Inia Suka, and twin cousins Epeli Ratabacaca, 10, and Inia Suka, 10, about 5pm to place fishing nets in the river.
A distraught Mr Suka, the younger brother of Marama's father, said he still could not believe his niece, who was always quick to help them at home, was now gone.
The group was placing nets at the river mouth of the Wainibuka River, which also connects the Rewa and the Wainimala rivers.
With tears in his eyes, Mr Suka relayed to this newspaper how he had tried to save his niece.
"We were all on the Wainibuka River side, and then I crossed over to the Rewa River side so I could place another net there," Mr Suka said.
"While I was still placing the net I heard Kelera calling out my name.
"She called me twice and I knew straight away that there was a problem. So, I left the bamboo raft I was in and the net and swam to where they were but it was too late.
"I tried to revive her but could not."
Marama, her younger sister Lice Naitanui, 8, and her father Emori Radruguwale, 40, had moved to Taivou settlement in Vunidawa, Naitasiri, three years ago after Mr Radruguwale separated from his wife.
"She was learning to swim and would always follow us to the river to get fish for our family's meals or for us to sell," Mr Suka said.
"This is a lesson learnt the hardest way for me."
Mr Suka said at first he could not find Marama's body but when he pulled up the fishing net she and her twin cousin brothers had been using, he found Marama's body trapped in it. The young Ratabacaca said he tried to grab hold of Marama's hand but she slipped away too fast.
"My brother and I told her to grab our hands, but she couldn't," he said.
"She was a bit far from us, and we couldn't do anything because she was also heavier than us."
He said before they headed down to the river that fateful day, Marama was packing her school stuff in preparation for yesterday's first day of the new school term.
Police spokesman Atunaisa Sokomuri said the drowning death toll had increased to 26 compared with 23 this time last year.