The Head of School – Mr.Kailash Pillay;
The Management Board of the School;
Parents and Guardians;
Invited Guests; and
Bula vinaka, and a very good afternoon to you all.
You probably can tell by my shirt, this month is “Pinktober” — otherwise known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every year, we dedicate the month of October to increase awareness about breast cancer –a life-threatening disease that can be treated if doctors detect it early enough. In the final days of this important month, I urge all Fijians — women and men — to be familiar with the signs of breast cancer, and all other types of cancer, and seek treatment if you are ever at all concerned.
I read a story today about breast cancer survivor Lavenia Vakacegu who underwent treatment for breast cancer at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital. Thank God — she won her battle. Today she carries a powerful message I think every Fijian should hear. In her own words, “Do not fear. If you do, it will prevent you from visiting the doctor at an early stage.
Face the fear you may feel, and approach a doctor.” Thank you, Lavenia, for that message. I know it will save lives.
It’s my pleasure to join you all today as the Lautoka School for Special Education celebrates your Golden Jubilee.
This half-century milestone comes at a time when not just your school, but all of Fiji, marks 50 years of history. And to remember this day, I’ve brought with me a souvenir that I hope each of you hold and cherish for a lifetime – our special 50 cent commemorative coin, the first coloured coin we’ve ever put into circulation.
Girls and boys, it makes me so proud to stand before you all today – not just as your Prime Minister, but as a father, a grandfather, and a fellow Fijian.
Because you – each and every one of you – represent a Fiji we can all be proud of. And this School shows that our nation is one of inclusivity, of opportunity, and of understanding that each of us has an important role in our society.
Of everything we have accomplished in my time as Prime Minister, the one that brings me the most happiness and hope is, without a doubt, how far education in this country has come. Primary and secondary education are free-of-charge, and we have removed any barriers for parents to send their kids to school.
And I thank one of your students, Praseeltha Gounder, for pointing out that very fact in her FIJI-50 second challenge video ahead of our 50th Anniversary celebrations.
When asked “what makes Fiji special?” she answered “Education for all”. She’s right. In fact, more Fijian girls and boys fill our classrooms today than at any point in history – and as a result, our nation’s potential has never been brighter.
And the students of the Lautoka School for Special Education are living proof that all of Fijian children deserve to be treated as equals, and deserve to be given the tools and support they need to succeed in this world.
When I look around at the girls and boys of this school, and I see their smiling faces, I don’t see them for what they’re unable to do. I see them for everything they have overcome.
So I have a message to Fijians everywhere – a message that your teachers and loved ones know all too well. The students of this School are strong. They are capable. And they do not deserve any stigma, but rather the support they need to thrive in Fijian society.
My friends, our Constitution enshrines equality for all Fijians, including those who are differently-abled. That’s why my Government has introduced programmes like the disability allowance, hostel grants, the bus fare allowance, and free TELS Scholarships to students with disabilities.
We have taken these steps not as charity, but as a means of ensuring equality. We support you. We express that support as a people — not just as a Government, but as a people.
Before we close – and get back to the celebrations – I want to take a moment to thank the staff, teachers, and supporters of this fine school. You represent the best of Fiji. You pour your heart and soul into giving each student the individual care and quality education that fits their needs, and in doing so, you are doing more than changing lives – you are changing Fiji for the better.
I look forward to watching each of your students grow and thrive, both in their schooling and beyond.
And I look forward to seeing the Lautoka School for Special Education continue to build upon its 50-year legacy, growing alongside our beloved Fiji and serving its children for decades to come.
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you, and God bless.