Aunty Va calls it a day – Counselling for the past 28 years

Vasemaca Naverebalavu or otherwise known as aunty Va. Picture: SUPPLIED

She has decided to call it a day after being a counsellor for almost three decades.

Originally from Serua Island, Vasemaca Naverebalavu Natoga has been counselling people with different issues for the past 28 years. Being the second eldest in a family of three boys and three girls, she had a very strict upbringing with her siblings.

“I used to wake up at 5:30am for morning prayers with my parents and evening prayers used to be at 6pm. My siblings and I used to sit in a row,” she said.

“My father was a very strict person. If one of us did anything wrong, then he would punish all the brothers and sisters.

“We used to be hit on the hands with a stick and my father would say that he wants to instill discipline in all of us for our own good in the future.”

Ms Natoga did secretarial studies at the then Fiji Institute of Technology and worked in the hotel/tourism industry before joining the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre’s office in Ba as a counsellor.

While with the FWCC, she went on the Melanesian Women’s Tour to Australia in 1994, where she stayed for a month visiting Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.

“I visited counselling centres with the group and also refuge homes for battered women. It was my first overseas trip and it was very exciting,” she said.

While working for FWCC, she did her Certificate in Counselling and after 10 years there, she joined the Family Support and Education Group in 2005, which is now known as Empower Pacific.

Ms Natoga, 64, who lives at Naidrodro in Ba, has done in-house training on Child Protection, Gender Based Violence, Psychological First Aid (PFA) and also has a Certificate in HIV Counselling.

Known as Aunty Va, she has been a motherly figure for many staff, a pillar of strength and motivation for those working with her for a few years, those who joined recently and those who left. She is a very close member of the Empower Pacific family.

“I don’t have a degree in counselling, but experience counts. With experience, a person must also have the passion for his/her work and definitely a good heart,” she said.

Ms Natoga said being a counsellor made her become a better, caring mother and grandmother, and also a friend to other women and men who have gone through domestic violence.

On how she juggled things between her role as a housewife, mother and grandmother and as a counsellor, Ms Natoga said she prioritised her roles at home and at work.

“I used to do some house work in the morning before leaving for work. I would go back home and complete the house work and also spend quality time with my family. The thorough house work was done on the weekends.”

Ms Natoga also did a Certificate in Psychological First Aid (PFA) which enabled her to provide psychosocial support in villages and communities after a disaster.

She went to Labasa in January 2021 after Tropical Cyclone Yasa struck a few weeks earlier to do PFA.

She did PFA in Macuata Province for six months.

“It was a very challenging period for me looking at the condition of homes and compounds, listening to the stories of people who were affected by the cyclone and seeing some of them crying.

“But I overcame all the barriers that I came across during my work in the field. My age has never been an excuse or hindrance for me in my work.

“I also went out for the REACH programs in Rakiraki, Nadarivatu, Rotuma and Nadroga. REACH is a one-stop shop as people can access the services by NGOs and some government departments too during the program.”

Ms Natoga said attending to people as a counsellor and helping them cope with their mental health issues strengthened her as a person.

“Seeing that the person has coped better is a different feeling altogether. I used to be selected by my branch managers to talk based on my experience and understanding of issues regarding children and people in general.”

She said working during the COVID-19 pandemic was an experience in itself as she had to do tele-counselling from home for a month or so.

“I didn’t find any problem in receiving calls on our helpline at night. I always put myself in the callers’ shoes, thinking that they need some help that’s why they are calling at odd hours of the night.

“The phone used to be next to me when I was doing anything, even in the weekends, or when sleeping so that I could answer and talk to the callers about whatever issues they were facing.

“I also learned about the PPE (personal protective equipment) which we had to wear when making the ward rounds at the hospital, sanitising and other things. The training was conducted by the Ministry of Health & Medical Services.

“But it was all about the passion to work and empathy that boosted me to perform my duties as a counsellor during the CO- VID-19 pandemic.”

Ms Natoga said she would miss Empower Pacific when she retires on January 31, but she would continue working in her community. Her retirement plans include spending quality time with her family, working with the youths in her church group and setting up her canteen business.

“After retirement, I’ll put Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the school holidays aside for the children of Naidrodro who always come to me.

“I’ll teach them art and craft, and upskill them on how to take care of themselves. The children are in fact looking forward to me retiring and being with them.”

Ms Natoga has the following advice for counsellors;

• have the innermost passion for the work itself where you never have to turn a client away;

• always have the time for clients;

• never judge a client by how they talk or carry themselves;

• be empathic towards your clients.

• always respect the client whether he/ she is young or elderly;

• maintain confidentiality as it’s the number one tool you must carry at all times;

• have respect for each other at work at all times; • empower each other;

• always respect people in leadership roles no matter what.

• AVINESH GOPAL is the media and communications officer at Empower Pacific. The views expressed are his and not necessarily shared by this newspaper.

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