Fiji Interview Trip 14-18th April 2008- Presidentís Report
This year we had 253 students to interview in Viti Levu and 287 students in Vanua Levu. Unfortunately our interview panel was reduced to 2 teams each of two members, because other members were unavailable and it became very difficult to co-ordinate the days that we could be in Fiji.
Govind Sami and Gautam Ramswarup were allocated Vanua Levu while Surome Singh and Krishna Prasad ran the interviews in Viti Levu. During our time in Fiji and speaking with principals and other supporting staff we found the situation to be worse than grim at present.
It would seem to the casual observer and reports in the local papers that there is little hope for ordinary people. The government and local politicians are talking about a better Fiji a peoples charter defending their various positions. The $A2m investment is the full page topic in the papers.
We witnessed ordinary people in schools and parents doing extraordinary things to deliver a good standard of education to children in schools as well as helping children with lunches and bus fares.
There were many cases of single parents supporting two or three children all of school age. Children faced many other hardships as well. We were shocked to interview children who were malnourished and underdeveloped for their age, however surprised and inspired by their hunger and optimism for a better future.
Most students deserved the allocated funds, if not more to cover the other expenses due to their family circumstances. Some FIT students found part time jobs to sustain themselves as students in spite of the difficulty in obtaining employment in the current economic climate. Two enterprising sisters sold farm produce at the roadside stalls to help their families and their school fees.
Fiji is also faced with high unemployment, low tourist visits, low sugar prices and flooding and continuous degradation of infrastructure. Potholes on the road took twice as long to negotiate and drive as normal. The general population is also under threat from violence, daylight robbery and uncertainty of the future. The disparity between the rich and poor seems to be widening.
There are other groups working at various levels for schools- helping with books and other resources, but our ICFI contribution is pivotal for the continued advancement of education for Fijiís disadvantaged children.
At current levels we have assisted a small minority of very deserving cases. ICFI needs to expand its funding extensively before we make a difference and include more isolated schools to have some impact.
We must not fail the students of Fiji. The situation is far worse than can be imagined. ICFI must not give up its resolve to continue this noble work as well as raise awareness amongst all Indo-Fijians who live abroad.
Over the last six years ICFI has invested $500 000 in education scholarships. This investment in time and money is starting to pay off. This year we identified some form 6 and 7 students who were assisted previously. Also gratifying is the number of final year FIT students who were helped previously. The figures below reflect a summary of how the funds have been utilised.
We made a big effort to impress upon the students to keep in touch after graduating and ICFI contact details were given. The Principals and student guidance officers have also indicated their support that student follow up and progress reports be forwarded to us for our information and for further assistance.In fact teachers have promised to keep a database and keep us informed. This has been a big missing link in our ability to track studentís progress.
The major problem of this trip was time. We did not have sufficient time with students or the teachers to totally satisfy ourselves. The interview process was exhausting and did not take into account social interaction (tea or lunch with teachers if offered) or travel time from one town to another, also that we had to work within the school hours i.e. 3:30pm. We got caught twice with school assemblies and had to wait for 25 to 30 mins before we could start.
We travelled at least 1300 km from Suva to Rakiraki and then to Navua and then again from Navua to Ba and were still not in a position to cover all the schools. The team covering Labasa would have probably faced the same difficulties. Fortunately Rajen Prakash was able to visit quite a few schools in Ba.
Given some of the difficulties we experienced for future trips we recommend the following:
∑ Organise more than two teams to conduct interviews
∑ Interview no more than 100 students per day
∑ Attempt to work around public holidays and exam blocks
∑ Develop a database of all students
Finally a big thank you to all the donors without whom we could not have facilitated this work. Also our members and their families, who have devoted so much time, effort, energy, personal funds and sacrifice to achieve ICFIís objectives. We also hope that in future we can involve the wider community as well as recruit like-minded members so that ICFIís goals and aspirations can be achieved more efficiently.
Let us build the momentum and make the difference.
Dr Krishna Prasad