Making a difference

The difference is clear... Before and after pictures taken on May 1 (left) and August 11 (right) shows road upgrades that lead to Matokana Village in the highlands of Navosa. Picture: SIKELI QOUNADOVU

DUA na motoka sa lako tiko mai qori.” (A vehicle is coming) Children ran towards the vehicle shouting and screaming, pushing each other just to get to the vehicle first.

It is not very often these children get to see a vehicle, nor is it an everyday sight, so when a vehicle arrives in the village they will want to know who is coming and what are they bringing or what are they there for.

Twenty-eight years ago, that was my same reaction when I was only five years old back in Qeleni, Taveuni.

The sight and sound of a vehicle speeding past always amazed me. In fact for the most of the past two years (between 2016 to early this year), children and villagers of Matokana Village in the district of Nasikawa have had to endure a six to seven-hour trek through the rugged terrain of the Navosa highlands to get to the nearest dirt road, before a three to four-hour bumpy ride to get to Sigatoka.

On Saturday April 28, a crew from this newspaper took a trip to Matokana and experienced first-hand the struggles of these villagers.

How women had to walk for more than half a day to get to the nearest health facility to deliver their baby or for clinic and how men have had to carry their produce for hours to get to the nearest dirt road.

On May 1, it took five and a half hours of trekking from Matokana to reach Nawairabe Village before we finally got picked up by company vehicle for the return trip to the Capital City.

 

 

Matokana Village children in front of The Fiji Times vehicle at the village green. Picture: SIKELI QOUNADOVU

 

 

The Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) in response to questions sent by this newspaper agreed to upgrade the already existing road which had not been maintained for the past two years.

About four months later and on Saturday, August 11, I made another trip to Matokana Village, only this time there was no need to take the treacherous hike. While the road leading to the village is set to be open later this year, the prayers of these villagers have now been answered.

Road upgrades still continue but I can say it was far better than when I walked on this road during my return in May.

There is an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction when you note you may have motivated and encouraged stakeholders to ensure that development also reached such places.

However, the struggle is not over, while villagers are thankful for the assistance it also comes with a cost. Villagers will have to fork out as much as $250 to take a truck to Sigatoka and then another $250 on the three hours bumpy ride back.

Today, two 4×4 twin-cabs provide transportation for these villagers and it is their only hope, the road will be well maintained to the extent they will be able to have the services of public transport.

As for those children who stood around the vehicle, it is pleasing to note the smiles on their faces.

Two years ago, children trekked for hours in the late afternoon to spend the night beside the dirt road before they made the long trip to Suva for the school’s field trip, this excursion included a visit to The Fiji Times office.

Today, these children need not walk for hours as the FRA is hoping to complete work later in the year, these children can now access a vehicle from outside their doorstop.

This is one of the reasons journalists exist and the mainstream media is important. For it is our duty to be the voice of the voiceless, to share the narrative of Fijians in all sectors of society.

This is one reason journalists love this work.

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