Villagers forge ahead

IN one of their village meetings, everyone at Nawaikama Village on Gau Island agreed that all newly-wedded couples, as part of their family planning, were to have no less than eight children.

This was to ensure that their village school remained operational and was not closed because of the insufficient number of children to make up the required school roll.

Compared with other primary schools on Gau ,which is shared by either two or three villages, Nawaikama is the lone village that has a primary school, which is attended by children from the village only.

The establishment of the school years ago forced the village to come to an agreement that every couple should have eight children.

Village headman Vetaia Tuisinu said the decision was reached because of fear the school would close down if not enough children enrolled.

District representative Kelepi Delaimataitoga said if a couple could not produce eight children, then they needed to find a way to have eight children, with adoption always an option.

Today, Nawaikama Primary School has a school roll of 79 children —- 37 boys and 42 girls — in addition to the 16 students enrolled in the early childhood education centre.

Saiasi Mataitoga, 79, remembers walking from Nawaikama to Sawaieke in the 1940s to attend school at Sawaieke District School.

Walking barefoot along a ridge, crossing rivers and rugged terrain, up a hill and down the slope, leaving home early in the morning and returning late in the afternoon was a norm.

The children played games on their way, making the walk a fun and enjoyable one.

At times some would cry, but then after wiping their tears the games would continue.

“It was a very hard time for us. Walking to school would take almost two and a half hours.

“It was the same tracks that had been used by our ancestors and was not in good condition but despite all this we still enjoyed school and we had a lot of fun,” said Mr Mataitoga.

Today, a truck ride from Nawaikama to Sawaieke takes about 45 minutes.

Nawaikama is one of the eight villages that make up the district of Sawaieke.

It is about 40 minutes boat ride from the Lovu airstrip and 30 minutes boat ride to Qarani, the main centre.

It is home to more than 300 villagers.

The village sits beside one of two jetties on the island and the Nawaikama Primary School.

Nestled under the Delai Voda, Delaco and Qila mountain ranges, the Gau Secondary School is located at Naivilali, a 10-minute walk from the village.

Five yavusa make up Nawaikama Village, whose chief is the Matanavure, all of whom come under the rule of the Takala-i-Gau.

The five yavusa are Burei, Navure, Nayavutoka, Burelevu and Najale.

Nawaikama is also home to the only hot spring on the island, the origin of the name of the village.

The Nawaikama Primary School is about 20 minutes walk from the village, following the black sandy beach at low tide, or walking on a foot crossing to reach the opposite side of the river that runs beside the village.

The foot crossing is made up of 13 coconut tree trunks laid across a mangrove swamp with lengths of bamboos tied together as railings. This tricky crossing has an added element of danger when it rains.

According to Kelepi Delaimataitoga, it was in the 1950s when village elders brainstormed for a school to be established in the village.

A year later the school was established and school officially started in 1952

“I was told that at times they would reach the school and would be all wet, or they would return because of a flooded river and heavy downpour,” said Mr Delaimataitoga.

“Our elders felt sorry seeing the children at that time walking long distances to reach school, so the best option was to bring the school closer.

“Today these children are so fortunate and blessed that the school is much closer and in addition Government has eased the burden of education and is providing tickets for their transportation to and from the village.

“The first classroom was a traditional Fijian house made of woven bamboo with reeds used as the roof.”

Mr Delaimataitoga said in 1969, there were plans to expand the school.

However, for that dream to be achieved they needed the money, so in a village meeting everyone agreed that some of the men would have to leave the village and work to finance this massive project.

Mr Delaimataitoga said the expansion was spearheaded by Jale Drauyawa, a Nawaikama villager who became a carpenter.

“Jale Drauyawa took some of the young men to work and they rotated every six months. It was his dream to convert the school from a mere bamboo thatched house to a concrete building,” he said.

He said the location of the school was swampy land before the new building was constructed.

“We dug and diverted the river and then we dug the school ground, corals were sourced from the reef, dragged to shore by bilibili (bamboo raft) and were laid as foundation for the ground before being buried by sand and then soil.

“Today during any heavy downpour, the school ground is always soggy, so we have plans of raising the village ground. Mind you this digging back then it was pure human energy and no machine was involved.”

Mr Delaimataitoga said those who left the village to work went as far as Savusavu, the Western Division as far as Yasawa either to cut copra or work on sugarcane fields.

He said they were not paid as all their earnings were used to buy school materials.

“While still working there, the school supplies were shipped to the village.

“It was indeed a hard job trying to establish the school. But today because of their dreams, unity and togetherness of our elders, we and our children are experiencing the blessing.”

Mr Delaimataitoga said their sacrifices would be in vain if the school had to close down because their was of not enough students to make up school.

He said it was therefore agreed for a couple to have eight children to ensure the struggles and sweat of their elders did not go to waste.

He said while the Japanese Government helped fund the Year 7 and Year 8 classroom block, there was still a lot of upgrading needed.

He said they needed consistent electricity supply, meaning an upgrade in its solar equipment, and hope for computers to boost the students’ knowledge.

“All we tell our children is to study hard so they can be successful,” said Mr Delaimataitoga.

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