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Out of sight, out of mind

Margaret Wise Information Collected By Maciu Malo And Baljeet Singh
Saturday, June 28, 2014

VARAYAMI Natuituba is 76 years old and lives in Saioko Village, Nakorotubu, Ra.

A coastal district, Nakorotubu is located in a region of rugged terrain, where public infrastructure is significantly less developed than the province's other 20 districts.

This absence of development is also true for the adjacent Nakorotubu makawa area, today known as the Navitilevu district.

From the Kings Rd, the 25-kilometre ride to Nakorotubu is a rough and bumpy one. Travellers have to overcome a hill so steep that the district's four villages are accessible only via four-wheel-drive vehicles.

There is no bus service. And no public transport means a villager needs at least $200 in carrier hire to venture into the township of Vaileka in Rakiraki.

Neighbouring Navitilevu has no roads linking the village to the main motorways so villagers have to travel by boat along the coast to Namuaimada, on the outskirts of Rakiraki's main business centre.

For 40 years, Mr Natuituba has struggled under such difficult circumstances and this hardship includes a four-kilometre walk to and from his farm, six days a week.

He says life in this region is characterised by a survival mentality where people make sure they plant adequate food, have access to water and thank God for the shelter over their head.

Over the years he has come to accept that Ra would routinely be ignored by governments and that public funds would continue to be disproportionately budgeted to favour the more privileged urbanites.

He believes the people of Ra are resilient and have learnt to live life, one day at a time. So if you asked him today about the September elections, he will say he would rather work with the cards the province has been dealt lately.

VILLAGERS' VIEWS

It is common knowledge that the province of Ra is an underserviced region. Identified as Fiji's poorest province in a recent World Bank report, Ra's problems are common to those found in all rural and remote settlements.

A two-week survey by The Fiji Times in 10 of the 21 districts in the province — including three of the most remote — found their needs to be very basic and as black and white as it has always has been.

Mainly an agricultural community, villagers feel the region has been marginalised for decades, never a focus of infrastructural developments from the powers that be, or have been.

They don't understand all of government's policies but they have lived long and seen enough to feel a disconnect with those who govern.

Most said they had been ignored and left out for a very long time. Over the years, village projects such as water and housing have mainly been possible through funds raised by the communities themselves, with some help from governments.

They also feel there is insufficient appreciation for the generations of hard work on farms and the years of struggle transporting produce to feed the urban markets.

Several districts and villages reported that years of pleading for proper roads, access to clean drinking water, schools, and electricity fell on deaf ears. Until recently.

GRATEFUL FOR THE LITTLE THINGS

Those interviewed identified the building of proper main roads and farm roads as one of the most important issues they want addressed. They believe proper roads are a critical link for progress and will connect the region to growth, employment, education and healthcare.

And it is for these very reasons that villagers such as Natuituba are thankful for the cards they have been dealt lately.

These cards include the upgrading and continuous maintenance of roads, provision of free education, distribution of free seedlings, and the installation of an ice-plant at Namarai.

There's also the much-needed and long-awaited new farm roads in the Nasau district.

In the Lawaki District, the new $50,000 Nakorovou bridge along Nalawa Rd has brought relief to farmers from five villages. For generations, villagers from Nakorovou, Namara, Tulanuku, Nawaruku and Sowanivou used bamboo rafts, horses and cow-driven carriages to carry sacks of cassava across the river. On some days farmers had no choice but to swim with their produce across the Lawaki River.

Some districts still don't have the many things they were promised by the Bainimarama government, but they are "grateful for the little things".

MAN OF THE MOMENT

"It might not seem like much to people on the outside and what the Bainimarama government has spent might be a very small percentage of their overall budget — but at least he has thought of us and given us something," said Samuela Sorova, 54, of Delaiyadua Village.

"This is the most attention we have received from any government ever. This gives us hope that next time around we will get more. So for now, he is our man."

Villagers also weighed in heavily on Prime Minister Rear Admiral (Ret) Voreqe Bainimarama's visits.

"Bainimarama is the first prime minister to set foot on our village," Mr Sorova said.

Delaiyadua Village is one of four villages located in Bureiwai, the furthest district in the province.

His appeal stems from his "effort" to listen to rural citizens.

"We will vote for him because he has brought developments compared to past governments.

"He has also given his support for the construction of a new high school in the Nakorotubu area."

"He also assisted through the maintenance of the main Nakorotubu road which enabled the bus service in our village from the Tailevu end."

At Nakorovou Village in the district of Mataso, 64-year-old Iliesa Tui reported that they were in dire need of a new bridge because farmers and students were affected every time it rained heavily.

However, the bridge issue was not an issue, as much as the provision of free seedlings.

"But we support Bainimarama to be the PM because farmers are getting free seedlings, something we never got in the past years." years."





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