Dive for a better life

Melaia Vugona of Nadrala Village in Nadroga sits beside the road with her sack of kai (freshwater mussels). Picture: SOPHIA RALULU

Melaia Vugona of Nadrala Village in Nadroga sits beside the road with her sack of kai (freshwater mussels). Picture: SOPHIA RALULU

WHEN you meet Melaia Vugona of Nadrala Village in Nadroga, you see a strong woman who is determined to provide the best for her family at any cost.

When we met her last month, Melaia had bloodshot eyes and wrinkled skin which told us she had just returned from diving for kai or freshwater mussels in the Sigatoka River.

Sitting at the edge of the road at Nadrala waiting patiently for a carrier to transport her sacks of freshwater mussels to the market, Melaia quickly shared her life story, all the while with a smile on her face.

A mother of six, Melaia knows how to value her family especially at a time when most traditional values and beliefs are quickly deteriorating.

Melaia said she would do anything for her family and she would go out of her way to make her family live comfortably in the village.

“Everyone in the village farms, with most villagers farming for their livelihood and some to sell at the market. We are one of the fortunate ones to be able to sell our produce at the market,” she said.

“When I have a lot of time on my hands at home, especially after my chores are completed, I tend to go diving for freshwater mussels in the Sigatoka River.

“I use to work before at Foodhall Supermarket in Sigatoka Town and I left it because my grandchild was born.”

Melaia said after she left her job, her whole family relied on farming and it catered for all their family needs.

“We plant vegetables because the soil in Sigatoka is good for different types of vegetable farming and we have a variety of root crops too,” she said.

“The money that I earn from selling freshwater mussels is used for personal expenses. I buy things that I need at home and for my grandchildren’s education because they are very important to me.

“If I have a 10kg sack of freshwater mussels, I can fill two 2-litre ice cream containers which we usually sell at $20 each at the market. If I have two to three 10kg sacks I can earn $100 or more which is a lot to earn in a day in the village.”

She said the weather could be a barrier for villagers earning extra money.

“If it’s a bad day, we do not go out diving and so we wait for the water current to be calmer in order for us to be able to dive for mussels,” she said.

“We leave home at 10am after completing our household chores or farming and we return three hours later.”

Melaia said she made sure her grandchildren went to school well-equipped with the money she earned because she wanted a good education for them.

“The good thing about living in the village is that we still value life and we share things, particularly when someone is in need of something urgently,” she said.

Melaia helps people whenever she can and tries to meet all her family obligations to the vanua, church and government.

She said it’s important for women to be strong in whatever they did because they’re the driving force behind the man, making the family succeed.

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