A school built on the back of banana farms

Above: Turagabeci Primary School. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

“EVERYBODY loves banana,” a group of children for Nasau Village, in Wainibuka sang as they played around the bridge towards their village Nasau, in Wainibuka in Tailevu.

I could almost envy their carefree life as they sang and played tag on the bridge.

The catchy song has proved popular around the country and among kids. But of course, if you had tasted the sweet banana fruit from Nasau Village, then you’d definitely agree with their song.

Nasau Village is made up of five clans or mataqali, and a population of more than 400.

They are one of the large producers of the banana crop to our domestic market. Back in the early 80s and 90s, the crop was exported to New Zealand. But due to fluctuation in prices and demand, the village have turned to ginger, taro, dalo and fish to supplement their income.

“If you have not tasted the bananas of Nasau, then you have not really visited our village,” laughed Simeli Ravalekama.

Mr Ravalekama is one of the village elders.

He said it was this crop that helped with their livelihood and built their church and school. ‘Our church was built in 1924, it’s a small church made from sand mixed into cement, we brought all the materials along the river from Nausori,” he said.

“We planted and harvested our banana crops for this church.”

Up on a hill overlooking the village is another fruit of the hard work of the elders of Nasau Village. A school building sits looking down over hills of Tailevu – a product of the sweat and tears of the people of the village.

It educates their children from kindergarten to Year 8. What is interesting is the fact that the school was started on the initiative of the villagers themselves with no help of the government. The classrooms were built from bamboos 29 years ago

The villagers had gone out, worked in the Pine scheme farms, worked as sugarcane labourers for years without pay and had the money earned from their labour invested into the school.

“The idea for the school came about after a school teacher called Akuila Turagabeci visited our village in 1989,” said Mr Ravalekama.

“This gentleman from Vanua Levu was teaching at Naiyala High School in Korovou at the time.

Now back then our children would walk more than an hour right to Wailotua to attend school. While on a visit there, Akuila decided to walk back with them to Nasau Village.

He found the journey exhausting, and as he rested, he told us that Nasau village should have a school of their own if we are to have our children succeed in their education.”

“That’s when the idea came about. The government at the time did not know about this school, we just did it out of our own initiative.

“So, in the beginning, we used our community hall to hold the first classes. We then built three homes for our teachers. Then it was decided to bulldoze and clear the land up on the hill to begin the school. So the village began fundraising and selling crops and finding work to help start our school. We just bought the tin materials and the nails, the rest of the materials were sourced from the village. We cut the trees and the bamboos and started work on it to create a four-room classroom in November 1990.

“When the school was ready one of the villagers took up a Kamunaga (tabua or whales tooth) and requested to Mr Turagabeci if they could name the school after him. When they did it to him, he refused to accept it. He started to cry – he said if you want to name the school after me then you have to be steadfast and be strong because the government would not be there to help, this is your responsibility and the future of your children is in your hands. We only received government appointed teachers to the school, but the running of the school and activities was borne by us from the time the school started till 2014,” said Mr Ravalekama.

Mr Ravalekama said their village wholeheartedly support the Bainimarama led government as it was the only government that arrived at their doorsteps and helped
them with their needs.

“Before the 2014 elections, our children were swimming across to travel down to Suva, the current government built a bridge for us and our children are now able to catch transport get dropped off properly at their school. Last year they helped build our school library, a double story building and $30,000 in a donation to help with the
school. It was the first help ever for us….all these years we’ve been carrying the burden of running this school.

“This school now has kindy to class 8. We have seen a change in the education of our children and many are now pursuing tertiary education and have good jobs. We
might not have much, but we are content with the fact that our children will carry on the legacy of knowing that it was their elders who sacrificed a lot for them.”

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