Practical help for Fiji

By Jenny Lucas

In August 2007 a team of Rotarians travelled to Taveuni Island in Fiji. The team consisted of four members from the Rotary Club of Pakuranga led by Chris Ward, together with Randall Shaw, a builder from the Rotary Club of Plimmerton (who passed away in October 2008). In just two weeks, this team, with the help of local manpower, assembled two classrooms for the Naselesele Preschool.

Although his health was failing, it was very rewarding for Randall to visit the Preschool a year later and see that it had been completed and was festooned with children’s art and handiwork.

The teacher was delighted to give a conducted tour and provide a wish list of much needed items to help her in the education of her pupils. And it was good to see the pleasure on the faces of the children who came to check it out.

The immense feeling of satisfaction for a job well done and for service to a needy community gave Randall the inspiration he needed to get Geoffrey Amos, a local Taveuni Island Rotarian, to help him select another school for a team from Plimmerton to work on in August 2008.

This was the Niusawa Methodist Secondary School on Taveuni Island. It was very run down, the school role had dropped, and so had government funding. 

The two classroom blocks had already been re-roofed when ten members arrived from Plimmerton Rotary - Randall & Jenny Shaw, Carol & Roger Ward, Dianne McGavin, Ron & Prue Lucas, John Green, Richard Culling (Carol’s son) and a few days later Peter Lillico. They helped Geoffrey’s team of local workers to refurbish four classrooms. 

Set in a beautiful environment, the team were always surrounded students, singing or practising traditional dance moves. Or playing one sport or another on the field in front of the classroom block with the stunning views looking west toward Vanua Levu Island in the background.

In many cases there was so much rotten timber that the walls had to be removed and rebuilt. Much to the bemusement of the local Fijian lads who are not used to women on building sites, the four women on the team got stuck into the job of demolishing, cleaning, sanding and painting as enthusiastically as the men. After two weeks the momentum had built up and although the Plimmerton group left with the job not quite complete there was a high level of enthusiasm to get the project finished.

The local team progressed the project by moving onto the next block of classrooms, so by the beginning of the new term the students had a transformed learning environment. There is still much to be done. The dormitories for the boarders are a disgrace and their toilets and shower blocks are disgusting.  Several members of the Plimmerton team are keen to return and continue the legacy of Randall’s work and inspiration.

In 2009 we were unable to get the funding application completed, so Ron Lucas and Jenny Shaw went up to Taveuni to scope the next stage of work needed at Niusawa High School.  It was clear that the Science Block needed refurbishment and a counselling space could be incorporated, particularly for the female students (boarders) who are away from the support of home and family.

New roofing iron and guttering would give clean water collection into water tanks which would provide a year round water source. There are good springs on the island but in times of drought and heavy rain the supply diminishes or is contaminated.

Jenny, with support and guidance from RNZWCS PDG Stuart Batty, successfully applied for funds through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (NZAID) to enable the upgrade and improvement of facilities at the High School. Funding contributions of $2,000 from South Masterton Rotary Club and $3,000 from Plimmerton with 4:1 funding from New Zealand Aid provided $25,000 for the project.

Still more funds were applied for and we were allocated $2,500 from District 9940’s Future Vision Plan. The initial request for continued assistance came from the new Principal of Niusawa High School -  Paul Celua.

The project encompassed the upgrade and refurbishment of the science laboratory, the establishment of a special counselling area for female students, teachers’ work stations and a courtyard area where teachers and students could sit and talk with each other. Rotarian Lorna Cammick (from Taveuni Club) designed and specified the counselling rooms. These are fitted out with comfortable furniture, local artwork, cooling fans and a restful decor.  The work stations were designed by the Raikivi team lead builders, Keith and Ben Covert, with input from the teaching staff. We found that it was important to involve a young team to carry out the project. All the furniture (work tables and stools) for the laboratory were designed and built by the team, the sealed unit for experiments was crafted to Ministry of Education specifications and bench tiling and painting were an important part of the project.

This young team has developed a variety of construction and refurbishment skills and can now tackle a very wide variety of projects. This demonstrates the value of developing and involving local people in each project. Young keen people continue to come into the team.  Rotary, and the pride of being involved, is an incentive and a true learning experience.

The result of Rotary’s involvement is clearly evident when you see the progress from 2009 to 2011. Academic results have improved and more young students are attending the school. Future projects in the planning are the refurbishment of the hostel (dormitory) for the girls, which is currently in a parlous state (below) and an ablution block for the boys.

The Rotary Club of Taveuni Island is a very efficient club and all funds are spent on the work. Many schools and the hospital have benefited hugely from their vision and generosity.

Due to the involvement of Taveuni Rotary, and the refurbishment of classroom and facilities, the school roll has increased from 176 in 2009 to 240 in 2012 and the pass rates in Fiji School Leaving Certificate has increased from 38% in 2009 to 69% in 2011.  Day pupils from Naselesele, just a short bus ride away, now want to board.

The dormitory project will be a joint collaborative effort between the Rotary Clubs of Taveuni Island, Chelsea in Victoria, Australia, and Plimmerton, New Zealand.  The building is sound and worth renovating but the poor condition of the interior limits boarders to about half of its potential. Work will commence in September 2013 and will involve the replacement of the entire hostel floor, replacement of the roofing iron, replacement of window louvre blades, construction of partition walls to create 32 bunkrooms of 3 or 4 beds, with built-in-robes and shelves and painting inside and outside.

When the renovation of the dormitories is complete, it will be formally handed over to the Niusawa Methodist School. Based on previous experience the number of female boarders will quickly increase to capacity and therefore hundreds of young girls will be given the opportunities that we take for granted.

 
 
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