Autumn Graham (Fiji)

Autumn Graham (Citizens’ Constitutional Forum – CCF - Fiji): Autumn grew up in Nouvelle-Calédonie, a French overseas territory in the South Pacific. During the ten years she lived abroad with her parents, she attended 5 different public schools, followed by high school near Montreal, Québec. Autumn earned her BA from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service with a regional concentration in Western Europe and a focus on French politics. At the time of her fellowship, Autumn was pursuing her Master’s of Art in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, with a concentration in international negotiation/conflict resolution and post-conflict studies.

An Educational Journey

01 Jul

On my way back from the town of Navua, I boarded a public bus. Close to 50 students, wearing white uniforms, filed on after me. They each paid a fare. I asked the driver if I was on the right bus, concerned I may have taken a seat on a school bus. He assured me it was a public bus only that school had just let out. They were all going home. A boy, around 15 years of age, the tallest and perhaps oldest of the group, stood at the front of the bus.

It became apparent that the bus driver was accustomed to these particular students. The driver began slowing down the bus before the student at the front pulled the cord, signaling a stop. As soon as the bus pulled over to the side of the road, a student would pop out of their seat, shoot to the front of the bus, smile at the driver and say goodbye to the boy standing at the front.

I have never in my life seen a more well-mannered group of students riding a bus. Having worked at a residential high school in the States, I was accustomed to insanely high levels of noise pollution whenever more than two students were together in a moving vehicle. On this bus from Navua, there was not total silence – students were just using, as my mother would term it, their “inside voices.” The two girls I was sharing a bench with said hello, asked me about my Nike tennis shoes (they are bright, bright blue), then turned and watched the passing scenery, occasionally talking. Some of my fellow passengers could not have been more six years old.

At one point the boy in front pulled the cord, the bus driver stopped the bus, but no student got up. The driver looked in the mirror and caught someone’s eye. All of a sudden it clicked in that particular student’s mind that this was his stop. He came rushing down the aisle way, gave the driver an apologetic look and shrugged his shoulders at the amused boy standing by the door. As the student descended the steps, the boy at the front looked at me and shook his head, all the while smiling. Finally, only the boy at the front was left on the bus. The driver pulled over to let him off at his stop. He had been on the bus for over an hour.

Recently there were two dormitory fires at different secondary schools, in quick succession. Estimated damage of the first one totaled FJ$150,000. On the news it was announced that the government had not committed to replacing the dorm and the community began raising money. Over one weekend close to FJ$9,000 had been collected. Various international organizations stepped in, donating clothes, bunk beds and other supplies – thereby permitting the students to double-up in the other dorms.

Water shortages cause schools to shut down and students to go home. This has happened to at least one school every week since my arrival in Fiji. Sometimes it is due to a problem with the water line, other times because water drums supplying the school are dry/low. This week landowners purposely turned off the water supply to one school, in protest against the government who had extended the school’s permit without consulting them and without making a good faith payment.

This all makes for attending school an achievement in itself. I can only applaud those who attend school (and their families). This is a determined commitment to education: overcoming uniform and transportation costs, braving poor conditions and long bus rides home. All accomplished by students displaying striking maturity. Impressive.

Posted By Autumn Graham (Fiji)

Posted Jul 1st, 2006

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