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Swimming for an education

Shayal Devi
Saturday, January 20, 2018

ALMOST two years ago, Merewalesi Vitoto made a decision to move from Vunaqoru Village along Kavanagasau Rd, to a farm located across the Sigatoka River.

She relocated because she didn't want her two young children to swim across the river twice a day to attend school.

In Navosa, it has become a norm for children to swim across the river whenever the fibreglass boat belonging to Naqalimare District School is out of commission.

Today, her modest two-room corrugated iron and timber house is what she calls "a boat stop".

"When the boat is unavailable, children from the Kavanagasau side come and leave their clothes and tubes here and when they return in the afternoon, they take this back with them," the 35-year-old said.

This week, the school boat was out of service until it resumed operation on Thursday morning. However, the boat only made two morning trips, on Thursday and yesterday.

"School started on Monday and Tuesday so the students swam. The boat just started yesterday (Thursday) and they swam across the river.

"In the afternoon (on Thursday), they swam back and this morning (Friday), the boat came."

Ms Vitoto said they were used to the boat engine breaking down because it was old.

"This swimming for education has been going for a very long time. The children started using the tubes last year and we also had a lot of hardships over the last two years so I asked my dad and mum to go to the other side and live there so it's easier for the children. I feel sorry for the children who are so young and yet they have to get up so early and swim in the cold water. It's especially difficult and dangerous during bad weather.

"Early in the morning, we (parents) wake up at 4am, cook the food and by 5.30am they have breakfast and by 6am, we prepare the tube and life jackets. We just use the empty bucket to put their clothes and lunch boxes inside.

"It's good that the Sigatoka River Safari provided some life jackets."

She said there was a need for at least one more vessel to help the children and villagers.

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