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Bridge of opportunity

Sikeli Qounadovu
Friday, April 21, 2017

WHEN Watelaite Gonewai lost her husband about 10 years ago, she was left to look after five children, two of whom were still in school.

Yet despite the pain of losing her soulmate, the mother of five with her shattered heart rose from the ashes and single-handedly raised her children.

While living independently, she agrees she did not fall short of the support from her relatives who often assited the family.

Originally from Nadakuni in Naitasiri, the 55-year-old now calls Logani in Tailevu home.

In 2010, Ms Gonewai lost her husband of two decades. She then started her own small canteen, which until today has helped meet their basic needs.

She had no time to go to the farm because she had to attend to her children, but her determination and perseverance ensured their needs were met.

"I usually run a canteen at home selling juice, ice and other stuff, and the revenue gained has helped meet my family needs," she said.

When a team from this newspaper caught up with the soft-spoken mother, she was preparing to head home after what seemed to have been a busy day for her.

In the past five months, Watelaite and other women of Logani and neighbouring villages had been providing food and refreshments to commuters while the Kasavu Bailey bridge was being constructed.

Tropical depression 04F, which crossed over the Fiji group in December last year, caused a landslip on the road.

This resulted in passengers travelling on public service vehicles (especially buses) from Korovou to Nausori or vice versa disembarking at one end of the closed stretch of road and then board another bus waiting on the other side.

It is while crossing over that these passengers usually stop for a quick bite, or to quench their thirst from the vendors who line up on the roadside in their makeshift sheds.

For the past four months, that landslip has come as a blessing in disguise for villagers of Kasavu, Logani, Visa and Naqeledamu.

About 20 wheelbarrow boys also provide service — carting items off-loaded from one end to the other, while the women with their smiling faces sell food and other refreshments.

For many of them, it has meant income for their families, enabling them to meet their daily needs.

Ms Gonewai was one of the many that benefited from this.

She would wake up as early as 3.30am to do her usual household chores and prepare breakfast before carrying her food items to the roadside.

"I sell juice and roti. In a day, I can make $50," she said.

"We have a group. Other women sell other food so for us the past few months have been really good for us."

Now that the Kasavu Bailey bridge is finally opened, the wheelbarrow boys have returned to their farms. And for the women like Ms Gonewai, it's back to their usual chores.

"Before doing this, I was running my own small canteen so the plan is to continue with business," she said.

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