October 7, 2011

Goodbye Gunu

 “Mum, you won’t believe how many kids dad has in the dinghy.”
Maia and I were putting the final touches on tidying the boat and putting out freshly made muffins and the last of our juice and fruit for our approaching guests. Evan had just dropped off another filled-to-overflowing dinghy load at Connect 4 and now our load of guests was approaching.

Dressed for play—and everyone much the same size and with the same haircuts--I found myself unsure just which children we had aboard. Maia seemed to know who everyone was though and happily took on the role of hostess—touring them through the boat and then offering up a morning snack.

We got them back to the beach in time to head to school and then we settled in for a visit with Lewa and her sister Vesi (who Maia loves). Lewa confirmed our understanding—the fundraiser for the school is so the kids can all attend for free. Typically parents have to pay for tuition, supplies and the uniforms. But in Gunu village the villagers decided to raise money together so that any child can attend elementary school and the kids from the other villages are even given a hot lunch.
Connect 4 getting guests--Gunu Village in the background
 She explained it didn’t stay that simple in secondary school. In Secondary school the kids take exams—if they do well, then they can go to boarding school on the mainland. But it’s expensive and it means for each 14 week term they don’t see their families (the boat to and from Latoka is very expensive). Both Lewa and her brother Kelevi (pronounced Caleb) had the grades to go, but Kelevi missed his family too much to stay on the mainland.

Post Secondary school is an even more complex dream—but Lewa is approaching the end of her IT course. And when the school announces her program is back in session (the Post Secondary School buildings are so overused that programs have to take turns using the facilities) she’ll head back to Latoka. Her dream is to get a good job so that she can get as many children from her family through school as possible.

It seems like a huge burden for the ever-smiling 21-year-old and it made us wish we could have done more than just offer good wishes and a few things for the elementary school as we prepared to say goodbye.

On our final walk through the village I was amazed by what a big place in my heart had been given over to it in such a very few days. We said goodbye at the school—dropping off pictures we had printed and some blackboard chalk for Anna—the long-suffering teacher. And Maia was surrounded with hugging children.

Then we stopped in at Lewa’s house and tried not to cry as I put Tahitian pearls around her and Vesi’s necks. I knew everything else we gave them went to others who needed them more and I wanted these lovely girls to have something a bit special—just for themselves.

And then we said goodbye at Bill and Lucy’s house. They scoured their home for more to give us and we tried to steer them away from gifts and to goodbyes. But it seems in the Fijian culture the two are entwined.
And we sailed on.

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