Mother of RMH – Kaunikuila’s matron of 40 years

Alisi Kustino with RMH boarders Osea Faivakibau (left) and Mika Bulivorovoro. Picture: IAN CHUTE

ALISI Kustino has been a mother all her working life.

Not only has she raised her own family and now looks after a grandchild, she has been a mother to generations of boarders that have called Marist Brothers’ High School’s Ratu Mara Hostel (RMH), their home away from home.

“When I started, Ms Pauline Samisoni was the matron. She taught me a lot in those early years,” Ms Kustino said.

The RMH itself has been nestled at the back of the school, sheltered from the traffic and sounds from the busy Bau St in Flagstaff, since 1978.

It provided for students who came from all corners of the country and the Pacific to study at the all-boys school known to groom many young boys into responsible grown gentlemen.

She has looked after, nurtured and mothered the many who stayed at RMH during their tenure as students of the school, since 1981 when she started as assistant matron.

RMH warden, Inoke Malani, a former boarder himself says that Matron, as she is officially and affectionately known, is the embodiment of the Marist values.

“She has always been very hardworking and nurturing. She quietly goes about her day waking up at 4am and carrying on until about 7pm when the boarders have their dinner,” Mr Malani said.

“She has always had a soft spot for the boys, always making sure there were hot meals and plenty to go around.

“She has the characteristic of a true Marist at heart, she treats every boarder like a son, she loves her work and does it diligently, she carries herself quietly and has a compassionate heart, she makes all the boys feel like they are at home and she does all this without a fuss.

“Like Mary it is something that comes from within, it’s like a treasure hidden in a field.”

She lost her husband Sikeli Kustino in 2016.

He was the farm manager at the school and later started a grog business.

She has a daughter and three grandchildren, one has lived with her at her quarters at RMH since he was born.

“My grandson Moni has lived here with me all his life. He’s 11 years old now and attends Marist Brothers’ Primary School,” she said.

“This place has been his home, his playground and the boarders are like his own elder brothers.”

There was once a time when if you stood and looked across the playing field from Bau St (Where Flagstaff Plaza now stands) you would see black robed figures moving along the corridors of the school.

The Marist Brothers, who the school is named after have a long and storied history with education in Fiji.

As the years have gone by, few have heeded the call to carry the cross. She spoke briefly about the time when the Brothers ran the school, RMH and taught the students.

“They had a presence about them. They often went out of their way to teach the students and would give extra attention to the ones who had difficulty learning.They would even help the students financially.

“They were educators, they were different. It was stricter then but it was a good time in Marist. I myself learned a lot from them, I learned to love the students as my own.”

She started as assistant matron and eventually became the matron but never stopped being her nurturing self.

“When I started at Marist in 2012 I started as a boarder at RMH,” said former boarder, Iowane Manasa.

I came from Navuniivi in Ra and was often homesick because I missed my family back in the village but she always made me and all the boarders feel like RMH was our home.

“In many ways she was a mother to us, just by how she spoke to us and treated us as if we were her own sons. I was never a fan of kitchen duties at home but when I came to RMH I always looked forward to it.”

She celebrated her 60th birthday with the hostel community and the Marist Brothers in 2019. Tomorrow in her honour, a celebration of 40 years of service to RMH is being held in the dining room where she has fed the boarders of RMH since 1981.

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