Re-Opening of the Vunikavikaloa Arya School.
May 31, 2017 Vunikavikaloa Arya School School, Nalawa,Ra.
Na Turaga na Tui Nalawa, Ratu Epeli Niudamu;
The President of the Fiji Red Cross Society, Mr Wylie Clarke, and Members of the National Board of Fiji Red Cross;
The President of the New Zealand Red Cross Society;
Dr Jennifer McMahon;
Ms Ruxandra Lazarescu of the Taveuni Rotary Club;
The President of the Arya Samaj in Fiji, Ambassador Kamlesh Arya, and members of the Arya Sabha Board of Trustees;
Senior Government Officials;
The Vunikavikaloa Arya School community including the Parents, Teachers and Students, Community Representatives, Nalawa Branch Red Cross volunteers, Red Cross Staff, and friends of Nalawa;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ni sa Yadra Vinaka, Tena Koutou (formal Maori greetings) Namaste, Noa’ia e Mauri, and a very good morning to you all.
I am deeply honoured to be here with you and to be part of this milestone achievement for the Vunikavikaloa Arya School, for the community of Nalawa, and for all our stakeholders including especially our friends from New Zealand.
May I firstly thank the Turaga Na Tui Nalawa on behalf of my wife for welcoming us with a Sevusevu. It is a ceremony that I hold in high regard not only because it is the first sign of welcome into the community, but also because in doing so, you have chosen to honour the position of President and Head of State and what it means in terms of respect and service to our beloved Nation.
Importantly, I thank you and the people of Nalawa for demonstrating a genuine spirit of goodwill in working towards the peaceful co-existence of all Fijians that have called Nalawa their home for the past century.
I also thank the Managements of the Vunikavikaloa Arya School and the Fiji Red Cross Society for inviting me to officiate in the re-opening of the school.
Ladies and gentlemen, I find myself wearing two hats today - firstly as Fiji’s President and Head of State, and secondly as the Patron of the Fiji Red Cross Society.
The responsibilities of the position of President in terms of service to the Nation could not be implemented in any other better way than through partnerships with organisations like the Fiji Red Cross Society.
The Fiji Red Cross Society’s mandate is to respond to the needs of the people of Fiji, especially during times of natural disaster.
During these times, the Society seeks out the most vulnerable, and provides for their immediate and pressing needs.
The whole of Fiji is very familiar with the effects of one such natural disaster – Tropical Cyclone Winston. At Category Five, TC Winston was the strongest cyclone to strike Fiji. She made landfall on the coast not far from here.
I am advised that the people of Nalawa received the full brunt of the cyclone in this North West part of Vitilevu, and that not a single community - from the coast to the hills of the Nakauvadra Range - was spared.
Such was the devastation wreaked by TC Winston. It required all of us from Government to Non-Governmental Organisations, local businesses, the Fijian diaspora and our friends from overseas at both the government and community levels to work together to meet the needs of the thousands of Fijians who were affected.
During my visits to the communities after TC Winston, I had the opportunity to see the Vunikavikaloa Arya School in passing. The devastation was visible to me as indeed to all those who travelled along the Kings Highway.
It is such a joyous occasion today to see the significant transformation that has been made possible through the support of the New Zealand Red Cross Society and the Taveuni Rotary Club, among many other stakeholders.
Ladies and gentlemen, seeing that we have gathered in numbers today, it would be remiss of me as the Patron the Fiji Red Cross Society not to recount the efforts that have been put into re-building the school.
The Vunikavikaloa Arya School has always been associated with the Fiji Red Cross Society since the inception of the Nalawa Red Cross Branch. For many years, the school served as the meeting place for the Branch as the Branch executives were either teachers at the school or living close to the school.
It was therefore only natural that the school should be selected by the Fiji Red Cross Society to be adopted under the Fijian Government’s “Adopt a School programme”.
Given the magnitude of the damages sustained by schools all over Fiji, Government established the “Adopt a School programme” to seek partnerships with both local and international stakeholders in re-building the schools.
The New Zealand Red Cross Society’s willingness to fund the rebuilding of the Vunikavikaloa Arya School and to manage the project, completed the final and most critical part of this partnership.
The rebuilding project cost approximately half a million Fijian dollars. This is a significant contribution from the New Zealand Red Cross and the people of New Zealand, many of whom donated to enable the Society to support the work of its counterpart here in Fiji.
The Rotary Club of Taveuni came to the rescue of the school soon after TC Winston. It provided the roofing iron, and with the assistance from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, two temporary classrooms were erected for the students to begin classes.
These efforts complemented the support of UNICEF, which donated several tents for the students to use. Clearly, the school needed significant investment to be fully re-built.
At this stage, I would like to acknowledge the commitment of Ms Ruxandra Lazarescu who initiated the initial repairs and was the driving force in facilitating the partnership between the Red Cross and Rotary. Thank you for helping make the partnership happen.
The students also have new desks, chairs, blackboards and notice boards including library books all donated from Rotary Clubs both locally and overseas. On behalf of all of us, thank you and Vinaka Vakalevu.
Please convey our appreciation to all those who donated generously towards the school.
The entire construction project was unlike any other most have seen, with New Zealand Red Cross using unique Frame Cad building techniques and materials. I have been informed that the steel frames for the roof trusses and ceiling frames were assembled here on site by Frame Cad.
This is an important development because it complements the Fijian Government’s aim to ensure that all newly re-built schools are able to withstand Category Five cyclones.
For the Vunikavikaloa Arya School, the New Zealand Red Cross project managers and carpenters worked tirelessly on the project along with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.
Fiji Red Cross and community volunteers supported the work while the women’s clubs from the surrounding communities including the school’s Mothers Club cooked and catered for all those involved in the project.
I would like to especially thank the New Zealand Red Cross for not only re-building the school, but importantly for involving the school and the entire community of Nalawa.
This has been a unique project with the Fijian Government, the New Zealand Red Cross, the Fiji Red Cross, the Rotary Clubs, parents, teachers, and students of the school and the community of Nalawa coming together to re-build and refurbish the school.
I am informed that the Project Manager Mr Tom Newton became critically ill upon his return to New Zealand and sadly, he is not here today to celebrate this great achievement with us.
Please convey to him and his family our sincere appreciation and gratitude for the very important role he played in managing the project. Our prayers and thoughts are with him and his family and we wish him a speedy recovery.
I also acknowledge the work and commitment of all the New Zealand carpenters many of whom came with reduced rates of pay for the opportunity to serve the people of Fiji.
To the New Zealand Red Cross and the people of New Zealand and the carpenters who contributed so much time and effort to help us, the people of Fiji would like to say Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavaad and a Very Sincere Thank You to you all.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a high public demand and expectation upon us as a Red Cross Society. As a voluntary humanitarian organisation, our success depends heavily on the spirit of volunteerism.
A strong National Society is important for Fiji just as a strong Nalawa Branch is important for the Nalawa Community, to enable you to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
I have been informed of the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha’s generous offer to donate land to the Fiji Red Cross Society on this school property where the Nalawa Branch Office will be constructed. I believe that the necessary permissions and arrangements are now being sought from the relevant authorities to enable this to happen.
I thank you also for your most generous offer to the Fiji Red Cross Society. This is most appreciated.
I also understand that the new Nalawa Red Cross Branch office is funded by Australian Aid as part of the Building Resilience Fiji project.
Once again, we can see international partners working together in building resilient communities, and I wish to sincerely thank the Government of Australia for this effort.
In fact, Fiji will always be grateful to all Governments and their respective peoples who came to Fiji’s aid in the aftermath of TC Winston. Our rehabilitation efforts would have been more complicated and protracted without their support.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Red Cross is many things to many people: a sign of hope, a symbol of protection, a light in the darkness, a shoulder to lean on, a friend to count on.
In essence, the Red Cross is about people; people working together to mobilise the power of humanity.
How wonderful it is to reflect that we can bring light to someone’s darkness in their time of need and in this instance, we have, for 232 students, their families and their teachers here in Nalawa.
The Vunikavikaloa Arya School re-building project is classic example of a joint humanitarian aid venture made possible through multiple partnerships that have resulted in the establishment and strengthening of many friendships that will be cherished for a long time.
This is why it gives me and the First Lady great pleasure to be with you today to celebrate the re-opening of the Vunikavikaloa Arya School, which was only successfully completed through all your contributions and commitment to partnership in this humanitarian work.
With these words, I am deeply honoured to declare the Vunikavikaloa Arya School officially re-opened.
Vinaka vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Thank you and may Almighty God Bless you all .