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A teacher's calling

Matilda Simmons
Tuesday, February 06, 2018

WHEN schoolteacher Josaia Natuilagilagi was given his new posting at Yadua Village School in Bua, he didn't know what awaited him.

It was his new posting as an assistant headteacher and after much discussion with his wife, they made the decision to go across.

"Some of the schoolteachers knew the challenges there and did not want to get transferred so my wife and I decided to take up the post because we both come from outer islands and we know the life associated with it," said the Ono-i-Lau native.

The school is located on Yadua Island about 10 miles west of Vanua Levu and a 25 mile broad reach north across Bligh Water from Nananu Passage. There are only two villages on the island — Denamanu and Korovou. The villagers rely heavily on fishing as a main source of living.

One of the great challenges on the island is the lack of fresh water. Most rely on rainwater and if there's none, most resort to an old aquifer that villagers have used for generations.

But it was not the water issue that got Josaia's attention when he first reached the island in December 2016.

"When we got off the boat at Denamanu Village, the school clerk told me there had been a landslide … and no classrooms," he said after a brief pause.

"So I walked up the hill to view the damage. When I saw the landslide, I just burst out laughing. It was my first posting as an assistant headteacher and I had no classrooms," he chuckled.

After much encouragement from his wife, Josaia began making plans for the school's rehabilitation. The massive landslide occurred in December during the school holidays which was fortunate for them.

"It was good I had good contacts so we arranged to have the UNICEF tents brought in to house the kids temporarily.

"I began contacting the various ministries, and the leading ministers. The response came that they had to cater to the schools affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston. They told us that we were at the end of the list to be accommodated.

"In the meantime we had composite classes where Year 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and so on were grouped together.

"So Years 5, 6, 7 and 8 were using the tent while the younger ones used the hall.

"We started with no textbooks, only exercise books. And we kept contacting the right people and textbooks started coming in for the children.

"The last help that came in was funding for three classrooms and a new office. I was informed that they have started work on building the classrooms in December last year."

In his 14-year career, Josaia has taught in Rabi and various parts of Fiji. His wife, who is from Tuvalu, has stood by him throughout.

"In our school results last year we had 100 per cent pass in the Year 7 Literacy and Numeracy Assessment (LANA), 75 per cent in numeracy and 100 per cent pass in Year 8, and only one failure for Year 6.

"That's two times in a row, from 2016 and 2017. All this with no classrooms and no water," he said with a smile.

"At times my teachers complain so I tell them it is not Government's decision to put together this team for 2017, it's someone of a higher power.

"I can see they're willing to serve here without this proper facilities ... But I tell them a different person put us here. He knows that we can survive here. So we managed."

Describing life as a teacher, he said: "Being a teacher, it is a calling. I had different plan for my life when I was studying. Teaching was not part of it.

"I had wanted to be a navigator. I had the documentation ready for the Royal Academy in England.

"However my parents asked me not to go. They didn't want me far away from them.

"Out of respect for them, I did not go. I knew I would have less pay but I respected their decision."

The assistant headteacher intends to stick around "a little more" on the island.

"There's no complaints because we are not doing it for the money. I've always told my teaching staff — if we are put here under this situation remember you're put here for a reason. You struggle but you're still surviving."

There are five teachers at Yadua Village School serving 90 students and 10 preschoolers

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