Helping spread the word

Volunteers for the Vunilagi Book Club. Picture: SUPPLIED

ON the afternoon of Friday, July 27, 10 Vunilagi Book Club volunteers and I travelled four hours to Sorokoba Village in Ba.

We arrived just before 10.30pm with the turaga ni koro and a group of community leaders waiting to welcome us and receive our sevusevu.

The spacious village hall was set up for the night as the women prepared a delicious dinner for us.

I had been organising the trip with Kaliova Nadumu, who hails from Sorokoba.

Mr Nadumu is a young writer, a reading enthusiast, and aspiring novelist, who had also volunteered with Vunilagi, having once taken a four-hour bus ride to Suva just to read with the children of Nanuku.

It was an immense joy for all of us to see him again, this time, in his home village.

The following morning, Mr Nadumu took us out on an early morning walk for some fresh air as well as to capture the burning sunrise.

Upon returning to the hall the group got ready for the reading session which was to happen later that morning.

Some of the ladies of Sorokoba had blessed our group with great hospitality from the previous night and this continued that morning with pies, sandwiches, roti va lolo, panikeke, and other local favourites.

We were told by the village elder Savenaca Nabeka that the village had started a program in order to tackle the literacy issues and empower their young ones for the future.

They planned to partition a part of the big hall into a library so that the children could practise reading while doing their homework there on weeknights.

Sorokoba’s young turaga ni koro Koliaci Kutalivaliva had been given the task of finding avenues to obtain children’s books but had not been able to secure any because of the demand from many villages and schools throughout Fiji.

As Mr Nadumu wrote in his latest blog post about the visit, “then go and behold, the news of Vunilagi bringing books over to the village arrived. It seemed fated and charmed, a meeting of prayers”.

More than 60 children arrived throughout the course of the morning to sit in for the reading session. Hymns were sung, books were read, children were encouraged to speak, and though there were differences between the Ba and Bauan dialects, both young and old alike made room for open talanoa.

The large hall and the veranda outside were filled with the sounds of reading, conversation, and laughter as we got to know one another through the sharing of books.

Three hundred and thirty children’s books and novels were given to Sorokoba with the exchange being done at the end of the session. Some of the mothers and elders either joined or supervised, with Mr Nabeka graciously receiving the books on behalf of the children and village.

Afterward, the children lined up to shake our hands as we also thanked them for attending the get-together that morning. The smiles were contagious, and I believe everyone’s spirits were lifted.

The children were given plenty of fruits, snacks, and water, which had been prepared by the hardworking mothers in the kitchen.

Village matriarch, Adi Talatoka Tuima spoke of the importance of drinking water and a nutritional diet so that the children of Sorokoba can grow healthy and strong minds and bodies!

A retired schoolteacher, Mrs Tuima had been a spirited force that morning. She knew well the importance of literacy and education, vowing to help where she can the children and future of Sorokoba.

The volunteers and I, enjoyed ourselves immensely on our one-night stay in Kaliova’s Village. We were treated to the warm and kind hospitality of the women and elders who took their time to receive us with so much care.

I would like to thank the mothers in Sorokoba, who prepared dinner and breakfast for us, Mrs Tuima, Cagi Balemaira, Rosa Neisau, Tai Naliva, Kolora, and Sulu. These ladies also prepared the fruits, snacks, and water for the children at the time of our reading session. Thank you for your generous hospitality!

Thank you to the elders who received our sevusevu and shared a talanoa session with Nic and I later that night — Koliaci Kutalivaliva (TK), Joeli Sadole, and Mania Gadroka.

There were a few others around the tanoa and we were grateful for your company. Thank you also goes to Mr Nabeka for your informative session before the reading. Thank you for sharing some of the village’s stories and for staying alongside Mr Kutalivaliva and the ladies as we read with the kids.

The success of the reading session rested on you, the mothers, and other elders who were present that morning. Your supportive presence would have shown the children that books and reading are very valuable.

I hope that the books will serve as tools for raising a generation of informed leaders in whatever fields the children choose to pursue. Vinaka valevu!

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