A trailblazer’s journey through a lifetime of service
17 September, 2023, 4:47 pm
In the remote village of Drekeniwai, nestled in the famed Natewa Bay, young Vane Dulukorewa Nawalowalo’s life took shape in a world she neither chose nor resented.
Her parents were civil servants and they were posted to Vaturova in Cakaudrove, where she attended Korotasere District School.
It was at this school, where she attended class one to six, that her journey toward an illustrious career began.
“Growing up in a school like that and then attending ACS was a great advantage because I had learned a lot of things about living independently,” she reminisced, the memories of her early years in the village still vivid in her mind.
“There is a lot of things girls in town don’t do like cooking with firewood outside – vakatoka ti. It’s a good upbringing when you are raised in the village, and I was fortunate to be brought up in one.”
Because of the school’s distance from home young Nawalowalo did not enjoy going o the village during the school holidays.
“We stayed in school because our parents were in Vanua Levu,” she said.
Her father was a teacher and her mother a nurse.
Their dedication to their professions meant that their young daughter’s education would be spent away from the comfort of the home.
It was a lesson in resilience that would serve her well in the years to come.
After completing her education at Adi Cakobau School (ACS), Nawalowalo transitioned directly into the workforce, beginning her career in 1968.
“We were prepared from school towards the end of the year,” she said, with the sound of youthful determination in her voice.
“We sat exams, and I was lucky to go to ACS.”
At work, she enjoyed the support of her school mates who also grew up in the village and were also former pupils of ACS.
“Ulamila Toroki and Ulamila Laisa made it easier for those of us who just joined,” she said.
The transition from the rural tranquility of Vanua Levu to the bustling world of Sawani was indeed a leap, but Nawalowalo’s village upbringing had prepared her well for the challenges of city life.
As a commercial studies student, she was part of a group that was eventually absorbed into the workforce straight after school.
Their journey into the civil service marked the beginning of remarkable careers.
“With family already serving the country, it was natural for me to join the government,” Nawalowalo said.
“It was safer for us girls at the time to join government because there were rules established, and coming from boarding school into a government department — for me, I would rather make that my career choice than the private sector.”
Her first job was working as a typist in the Department of Social Welfare, where she worked under the guidance of an expatriate deputy director.
It was a humble beginning for a young woman determined to make her mark in the world.
“Initially, I wanted to work as a social welfare officer,” she said.
“I loved the idea of going to serve the people and going to see the needy. But my career panned out differently. I was to be a typist, so my work experience began.”
At this stage, she was still single and faced the rigours of a demanding job.
“When I started work, sometimes I would cry,” she admitted.
Her boss, an expatriate, had high expectations of those under him, and young Nawalowalo had to adapt to the demands of her role quickly.
“I had to go through that, and I was determined to get through all the hardships in my work. I had to concentrate and do things better.”
Born in 1949, she said she was probably just 18 or 19 years old when she embarked on her career.
The challenges were many but they only fueled her determination to succeed.
Over the years, Nawalowalo’s career took her through various government departments.
She worked in the Public Service Commission, the Cabinet Office, and eventually became the Prime Minister’s Secretary.
“I was mostly working for the Secretary to Cabinet because he was the most senior of all permanent secretaries,” she explained.
As she rose through the ranks, her work encompassed more than just typing.
She progressed to typing of legal documents which required a deep understanding of the intricacies of the law.
“My job taught me so much more than what I learned in the classroom.
“I had to work hard in all the positions I was assigned.”
Her days often stretched late into the night. But she took pride in her ability to deliver work promptly.
“My regular day would end at 9pm,” she said.
“The day’s work should be finished on the day it is given.”
In 1971, Nawalowalo got married, and her husband worked in the private sector.
The demands of her career, which often included late-night work and 24/7 availability, posed challenges to her personal life.
“Family life was difficult then,” she said, “but you had to have some sort of rhythm, especially when you are newly married.
“You have to stay together; you have to be good to him, and all would be okay. And then, you go and do your job.”
The couple also looked after other children, extending their nurturing care beyond their own family.
Despite the demands of her work, Nawalowalo flourished.
She balanced her career and family life with remarkable grace.
“I had to concentrate and do things better,” she said.
“I suppose that’s how I balanced my career. I got help from my parents, and his (husband’s) parents were also helpful – I used to take my children to them when I needed their help.”
In 2017 and 2018, after a career spanning 38 years, Nawalowalo retired from the civil service, a welldeserved respite after a lifetime of service to the country.
Throughout her career, Nawalowalo served under a number of prime ministers, including Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Sitiveni Rabuka, and Laisenia Qarase.
Her roles ranged from working in Parliament and the Prime Minister’s Office to regional development.
She recalled her time in the Fiji Intelligence Service, where she underwent training to become an intelligence officer, driven by a desire to better understand human behaviour.
“I wanted to work hard and do what I wanted to do when people needed me,” she said.
In her illustrious career, Nawalowalo embodied dedication, resilience, and the spirit of service.
She learned to understand and adapt to the personalities of her various bosses, emphasising the importance of respecting their needs and
“You have to work out what your boss is all about.
“You have to know what he wants, you have to study what kind of person he is. Whatever he wants, it must be done, and in a quicker time.”
Now in retirement, Mrs Nawalowalo reflects on a lifetime of challenges and triumphs, and how she overcame adversity to leave an indelible mark on Fiji’s civil service.
Her story serves as a testament to the power of determination, resilience, and unwavering dedication to one’s career and responsibilities.
It is a tale that persists in igniting inspiration for future generations, a lasting legacy of service that will forever be engraved in the pages of Fiji’s history.
• CHEERIEANN WILSON is the media and communications advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister. The views expressed in this article are hers and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.