Nabukebuke Vua na Gone Turaga na Tui Levuka;
Nakorovatu Vua na Gone Turaga na Rokotakala;
Gone Turaga na Ratu i Bureta;
Gone Turaga na Tui Wailevu;
Students, Parents and Guardians of Levuka Public;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
Levuka is a place that is intimately tied to the history of Fiji. It was our first capital, and the Levuka Public High School was our country’s first public school. Some of the greatest Leaders Fiji has produced were formed here—from the great Ratu Sir George Cakobau to our current Speaker of the House and former President of the Republic, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. The events that led our forefathers to give Fiji over to Queen Victoria occurred here in Levuka. The oldest hotel in the South Pacific is here, and some of Fiji’s great commercial enterprises began here.
But Levuka is not just about the past, and we are not here to celebrate Levuka’s past. Levuka is very much a part of Fiji’s proud future. If history is a guide, many of the students who attend this school today and through the years ahead will become Leaders in their fields. They will take their place in the long procession of outstanding Fijians who, beginning in 1879, marched forward from this school and made their mark across Fiji. That march has never abated.
It continues apace, and the evidence of that is in the faces of the students who are here today. They will propel Fiji forward—in Government, in business, in science and technology, in medicine and law. To build a future of sustainable development, we start by nurturing our youth.
And that is why we are here today. We are doing more than dedicating a building. We are celebrating the last chapter in Levuka Public High School’s physical modernization. With the completion of the Boys’ Hostel, we have completed the renovation of Levuka Public High School. We have upgraded, renovated or rebuilt 20 buildings on this campus, at a cost of more than 1.8 Million Dollars. The boys’ hostel is the final project. Their dormitory was so damaged by fire in 2012 that the existing timber structure had to be demolished and rebuilt using concrete block.
The boys have waited patiently for their dormitory. They have spent a long time in a makeshift living situation, and I thank them for their patience. Now their patience is fully rewarded.
These dormitories are critical to education in Fiji, whether they house 30 students or only a handful. We have student living quarters in many schools in Fiji because that is the only way we can guarantee an education to students who live too far from their schools to travel back and forth every day.
My Government has made a commitment to guarantee free education, free textbooks and subsidized transportation to school for Fijian students. Not all students need to live at school, but we cannot have equal education for all students if we do not provide that option for those who do need it. And if we don’t give our students an equal education, we deny them equal opportunity in life. And that is something my Government will never consider.
Of course, since Tropical Cyclone Winston, we are building all our school buildings to the strongest standards so that they can withstand severe storms. Our schools have to be safe places for our children. But as you all know, they also serve to shelter our communities when natural disasters hit. If your house is threatened, then you must be able to count on finding safety in the nearest school. And you can do that in Levuka.
I am also happy to hand-over two boats with engines to serve the people of Ovalau and the other islands of Lomaiviti. Both will serve to shorten the distances between communities and hasten the delivery of services in times of need. One will go to the Levuka Hospital, and it will allow the Hospital staff to extend the reach of the Hospital to distant rural communities. The other will allow the District Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to reach remote areas affected by disasters more quickly.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster such as a severe storm, lives will be saved if medical staff and emergency staff can travel quickly to where the need is greatest, and the simple provision of these boats will make a huge difference to people in need. Both the EOC and the Levuka Hospital will also be better able to serve this area in normal times by traveling more quickly to consult, work with and educate local communities.
And finally, I am very pleased to be able to recognize two (2) outstanding young entrepreneurs and one outstanding youth organization in this community. They are recipients of Small Scale Youth Grants, a programme of my Government that is administered by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. We award small grants to entrepreneurs through different Government programmes to reward the hard work and bold ideas of our small-business owners and give them the boost they need at a critical time of growth.
These grants are repaid many times over in economic activity that supports families and communities and continues to grow.
I am proud to tell you about these recipients:
Isireli Saro operates a canteen from his residence in Nukutocia Village on the Island of Levuka. He opened his business in 2018 with the small amount of money he could scrape together after completing a training program run by the Ministry. After two years of building his business, he applied for this Grant, which he has used to partition his house and eventually expand his business to sell groceries, foodstuffs and his yaqona.
Tevita Vunileba also operates a small canteen business, from his residence in Mudu village on Koro. He is also involved in a Ministry of Youth programme to plant 2,000 yaqona plants in three years and is committed to other rehabilitation activities such as rebuilding houses that were destroyed during TC Winston.
He started selling suki and sweets to his fellow villagers and using whatever money he could save to start. After three years, he applied for a grant, and he plans to expand into wholesale operations and sales of frozen food on Koro and also establish a small fuel retail outlet.
Finally, the Lovu Youth Club has been awarded a grant of $3,758 to purchase tools and supplies for their project in which each member will plant 500 yaqona plants to be harvested in 2025. This project will be checked and monitored by the Turaga ni Koro and the Talatala Qase.
We are very proud of the Lovu Youth Club for its commitment to the community. The members carry out a clean-up campaign on the first week of every month. They take care of elderly in the village by working on their farms. And they are taking serious training on organic farming and controlled use of herbicide under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Last but not least, we’re cultivating Ovalau’s homegrown athletic talent by equipping the Ovalau Sports Association with all-sport fitness equipment. Unlike your current weightlifting gym, this equipment is suited to a wide range of sports, as well as for ordinary women and men looking to make fitness a bigger part of their lives, and I encourage the people of Ovalau –– regardless of their skill level –– to take advantage of this investment in their well-being.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I said at the beginning that we were here today not to talk about the past, but to celebrate the future of this region. And so we are. The future as reflected in the nearly 400 students who attend a modernized Levuka Public High School. The future as reflected in athletes of the Ovalau Sports Association training with better equipment. The future as reflected in better medical and emergency services. And the future as reflected in the commitment and optimism of these young recipients of youth grants.
Even as we face hardships such as the coronavirus pandemic, I am always filled with hope and optimism when I witness the energy and idealism of our young people. These investments today lay seeds that will grow throughout the decades to come, creating opportunities we can hardly imagine today.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. God Bless.