Vunilagi travels to Nabutautau

The many books that were given by Value City and Global Compassion for the children of Nabutautau. Picture: SUPPLIED/MARIANA WAQA

VUNILAGI Book Club visited the historical village of Nabutautau in Navosa Province on June 9-10. The village is famously known as the place where missionary the Rev Thomas Baker was killed in the 19th century.
The group trip was organised by Talanoa Treks, Fiji Museum, and USP History as part of a “living history” initiative where Fijians and visitors to Fiji are encouraged to engage with historical sites. The organisers of the trip had invited Vunilagi to hold a reading session as part of the program and I obliged willingly since it would be our first rural village to engage with and give books to.
The Sunday before our trip, I spent an entire day packing a few hundred children’s books into four boxes and setting aside two large boxes full of brand new children’s gumboots. Many of the books were given to Vunilagi by Value City while Global Compassion gave books as well as new children’s gumboots for Fiji’s wet season.
I decided to give both boxes of boots to Nabutautau since the village is rural and the surrounding terrain requires good quality footwear for the children.
Dilo Taraicake, who is the kindergarten teacher in the village, helped lead and assist the session by reading a story in the Fijian vernacular before I read Dr Seuss’ s Cat in a Hat. I had assumed that because some of the children in Suva found it difficult to read or comprehend the English language, that I would find the same in a more rural village like Nabutautau. However, many of the children read fluently and comprehended the stories which were read to them by the volunteers and I. We were very impressed by the reading level of the children who read with us.
I later spoke with Mrs Taraicake and she explained a literacy program began in the village early last year but because of the lack of books and an illness, which became widespread among the children, it stopped abruptly.
The Vunilagi session that morning was the first of its kind in the village and Mrs Taraicake was very grateful that the children will now have access to some great storybooks which they can spend time reading. The children of Nabutautau attend boarding schools which are almost two hours away by carrier, so Mrs Taraicake explained the books can be put to good use during weekends when they are home. There is very little phone reception and no internet connection in the village, therefore the books will be a great way for the children to exercise their imagination and build up on their reading skills.
Both Mrs Taraicake and her brother Etu are avid readers who hope to pass on their love for books to the next generation of Nabutautau youngsters. They are great examples for children of rural villages throughout Fiji that no matter where one has come from, reading can open up the world of imagination and knowledge. We hope that the books will bring many happy hours of reading and learning.

n Mariana Waqa is the founder of Vunilagi Book Club, a literacy program aimed at children living in vulnerable communities.

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