Century old school

A frontal view of the Sabeto Central School in Nadi. Picture: REINAL CHAND

MANY of the early Indian settlers in Fiji were quick to grasp the value of education as an empowerment tool, one that would provide the platform and pathway to a better and prosperous future.

In many rural sugarcane farming communities, these early settlers were the ones who pushed for the establishment of schools to educate their children.

As a result, schools built over a century ago are still standing in the country, and an example is Sabeto Central School in Nadi— one of the first schools established in the area.

The institution has churned out over 8000 students throughout its 100-year existence.

Beginning
Picturesque in its simplicity, Sabeto became home to many indentured labourers who started sugarcane farms and forged working relations with landowners.
As time passed, it became evident to these settlers that there was a need for proper education facilities for children.
It was in the 1900s that missionary the Rev C F Andrews founded the then Sabeto Indian School, known across the community today as Sabeto Central School.
Because of a lack of proper facilities, classes were held in makeshift sheds and thatched bure in 1918, replaced today with wooden and concrete structures.
Official school records date back to 1927 where the first entry in the admission register, inked the name of one Atma Ram from Barara, Sabeto.
He enrolled on January 24, 1927.
That year, 114 children were enrolled. The numbers fluctuated over the years, and at one point, stood at about 800.

A school for all
For one of the most prominent families in Sabeto, the school played a great role in educating generations of youngsters.
Mohammed Yakub Khan can still remember the day he followed his elder brother’s footsteps and joined the school.
“In our school, the teachers were very good and there weren’t any issues with the students,” the 93-year-old said.
“I was very small when the school initially started. I was born in 1925.”
He said his elder brother Bechu Prasad, once Fiji’s oldest citizen, used to collect gifts for the school.
“They used to wrestle and play sports to raise money to help the school.”
He said students were content with classrooms made of thatched bure, bamboo lined walls, limited desks and chairs. Transportation was also an issue then because most students walked to school.
He said some students travelled four to five miles as Sabeto Indian was the only school at that time. About four generations of the Khan family attended the school.

Present day

Today, the school roll stands at 287 primary and 32 kindergarten students. The decrease in numbers can be attributed to the development of new schools in the area.
Another reason cited was the eviction of sugarcane farmers, along with many turning away from sugarcane farming.
There are nine primary schoolteachers and two kindergarten teachers. About 51 per cent of the children are iTaukei while 49 per cent are Fijians of Indian descent.
About 53 per cent of the school roll is female and the school caters to students from about 18 villages, ranging from Korobebe Village to Barara settlement.
It is estimated that 75 per cent of the current students were from farming backgrounds, while 15 per cent are children of labourers who had settled in Sabeto.
In 2010, the school’s name changed to Sabeto Central School. Since it began operations, the school has helped educate more than 8540 children.
One of the most notable figures who served the school as a member, president, manager and trustee was the late Bechu Prasad (Babuji).

Centennial celebrations

With centennial celebrations planned for this month, a three-day celebration was organised recently for past and present students and members of the community.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama attended the celebrations and said the school had a rich history and was not only surviving, but thriving.
“To community leaders, parents and teachers who should be thanked for reaching this milestone, you have helped make this a facility that brings pride to all the communities it serves,” he highlighted.
He also recognised the visionary leadership of members of the Sabeto community who pushed for progress through education.
“They did not let their lack of money or lack of formal education hold back their forward thinking. Despite not having much, what they did have was an abundance of wisdom and foresight.
“This drive has helped generations of Fijians create better lives for themselves, and for this, the founders will go down in history as true pioneers.”

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