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Byron Shire
September 25, 2023

More than just a holiday – education creates opportunities

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Students at the Cuvu District School, Sigatoka, Fiji. Photo Tracey Buss.

The journey began on the descent into Nadi International Airport. The view from the port window promised a sublime experience to say the least!

On arrival at The Shangrila Fijian, I was met by Mereoni, the Social Responsibility Coordinator at the resort. I was loaded with 30kgs of school supplies: exercise books, colouring-in books, pens, pencils, scissors, glue sticks and rulers. Some of the supplies were kindly donated by Helen and Janelle from the Mullumbimby Newspower Newsagency, the rest were supplies I had purchased and all being donated to the school as the items were in short supply.

I was invited to attend a school visit to hand over the school supplies and eagerly agreed.

A visit with more purpose

I had visited The Shangrila several times over a 20-year period, but this year’s visits were with more purpose than to simply enjoy a relaxing holiday. The visits were to develop and build a solid friendship and relationship with Cuvu District School, Sigatoka, Fiji.

I met with Head Teacher/ Principal Pat on arrival at Cuvu District School. We spent time chatting about the students, and the school’s operations. Then we went on an unforgettable tour of the school; a co-educational school of 200 students, ranging from Kindergarten to Year 8.

I had the opportunity to meet some of the students, and much to my delight, they were fascinated by my long, pink fingernails and curious about who I was. Little did they know what I had in store for them!

Student look to their future

The students freely chatted about themselves; how they loved their teachers, their school, and dreams that they had for the future. It became apparent to me that these kids were interested in going places.

One female student expressed her dream of becoming a Captain for Fiji Airways… and it got me thinking – these kids have wonderful dreams. They are bright, happy, friendly and ambitious. The students actively pursue their learning with very little resources, but are attentive and engaged. They are well-dressed in their uniforms, taking pride in being enrolled in Cuvu District School. Many of them walk a good distance to attend school, and it is indicative of their commitment. I decided that I was going to help them achieve their goals.

The school is set on four acres of rustic land, and is a valuable centre of learning within the village. The pride of the principal is the new Ron Jones Kindergarten Building. Ron Jones was an erudite member of ‘the Bilo Club’ at the Shangrila, of which I am a member as well, and he bequeathed a vast sum to erect the Kindergarten Building. It was my job to furnish it.

Students need computers

Principal Pat thanked me for the school supplies, and I asked him ‘What do you really need?’. He was forthright, ‘We need computers’.

That night, back at the resort, I was thinking, ‘Why don’t I just buy them some computers and donate them to the school?’ So I contacted Mereoni, she sourced a quote from a Suva Computer Company and emailed me the invoice. It was done – the school had computers delivered the week after I departed.

I returned to Fiji in May and visited the school again to add to the Kindergarten Building project; donating 40 chairs, which were needed as a priority for Kindergarten to Year Eight students and some adult-sized chairs, all in bright colours of blue, red, green and yellow.

During another school visit I worked with the IT teacher and we discussed appropriate software for the students to align with the school syllabus. However, owing to the hot and humid climate, the school required air conditioning for the computer lab to maintain a temperature that would protect the longevity of the new hardware. I donated three air conditioners for the computer lab and principal’s office.

They are friendly, very polite, well-spoken students who are eager to learn and whose parents also value education, seeing it as an integral part of providing a promising future for their children.

Many of the students go on to work at the Shangrila in a variety of positions: administration, domestic and hospitality staff, and many of their parents currently work there.

Ms Buss has a background in education at a secondary and tertiary level and runs Zigaboo Enterprises. The company’s not-for-profit arm helps support Cuvu District School. You can contact Tracey Buss for more information on the program at: [email protected].

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