Island News

Vakatale defied all odds

Written By : WAISEA MAKUTU. Amazing is what most will exclaim about her achievement but yet she owes it all to the grace of God. It is a reality that
29 Jan 2011 12:00

Written By : WAISEA MAKUTU. Amazing is what most will exclaim about her achievement but yet she owes it all to the grace of God.
It is a reality that the baby born prematurely on the February, 1st, 1938 after only seven months of being conceived defied all odds to lead this nation at one point in time.
“Fortunately my mum was a nurse and she had toiled hard to have me live after most have given up on me,” recalled academic and former politician Taufa Vakatale.
She was born at Yalobi in Yasawa as her father was posted there as an ordained church minister.
It was difficult in those days but after she was born, her mother wrapped her warm with the hope that she was going to survive.
“I was told that the chances of making it were slim, yet I survived and the first sound or sign of life was heard two days later,” Ms Vakatale said.

When she was three they moved to Naviti, which was also in the Yasawas where she was brought up with Adi Samanunu Cakobau-Talakuli. Her dad Ratu George Cakobau was the Roko Tui Yasawa at the time.
They were there until the Second World War broke out.
Ms Vakatale said they saw foreigners occupying the islands and they succumbed and adapted to safety routines, which they had put into place.
“I can recall those moments when the siren sounded and everybody were required to take safe shelter in trenches they had dug up,” she said.
“I was so small and had to be carried by somebody whenever the call for safe covering took place.”
In 1944 her dad was transferred to Ovalau and there she started her education as she was enrolled in class one at Bureta.
Two years later, the directive came from the Methodist Church of Fiji for her dad to be transferred to Sawaieke in Gau and it meant another change of environment and school.
“I jumped class at my new school because the teachers had assessed my potential to be way ahead of my age,” Ms Vakatale continued.
“This was the start of my uncharacteristic educational progress, which later on at secondary level of schooling required me to repeat in some phases because of my age.
That is despite passing all exams with above average achievements.”

Life at ACS
Her elder sister had sat for the secondary school level qualifying exams but was not accepted to move into a new girl’s school because of her age.
The requirement stipulated that the next in line would instead be accepted as a replacement and this saw Ms Vakatale join Adi Cakobau School. She was only 10-years-old.
“I was one of the first students at Sawani and had a tough time trying to overcome the almost impossible situations because it requires a mammoth effort to handle them,” she said.
“There were altogether sixty-two students and we were split up into two classes namely A and B. I was number sixty one and the smallest who started in this prominent school,” she said proudly.
Her suitcase had to be carried by her dad and she had always wondered how he had succeeded in doing it.
“I had bad memories whenever tasked to weed the school compound because my cane knife was bigger for me.
“The students who passed from Vanua Levu were experts in this domain and it amazes me to watch them weed.
“My efforts were always in vain because instead of achieving it I will always dig into the ground surface whenever I swung my knife.”
This handicap saw Ms Vakatale being assigned to other tasks such as picking up rubbish or cleaning toilets.
She always needed a raised platform to reach the clothes line when washing her clothes.
The older students were so fond of me and they always had a special place for me in their midst and that made me feel at home.
“This bond and preferences made me so popular and that obviously led to mischief on occasions knowing that whatever I did irrespective of proportion I will always be loved and accepted,” Ms Vakatale said.
She was given the Class Six curriculum and was required to mark time in the classes until I got up to class eight. They were more concerned about being qualified in age rather than academically.

Hard work
The next most important stage when advancing through secondary level during those days was the qualifying exam but I was too young because you have to be 16 years of age to tackle it.
The teachers then decided that I should not wait for another two years and at 14 I sat the exams and passed.
This exam automatically qualifies students to work as civil servants and teaching in those days.
“I continued to pursue academically from the third to fifth form and sat both the Senior Cambridge and New Zealand School Certificate Exams.
“Being one of the top students I enrolled at Nasinu Teachers College and after attaining top marks in the Advance of Credit exam I went into the teaching profession.
“I was earning four hundred and eighty pounds, which actually was a substantial sum in those days.
“I went back to high school for the Sixth Form New Zealand University Entrance Exam but only this time I had to go to Queen Victoria School because it was the only institution in the country where allowance to sit for such exam was permitted.
Ms Vakatale later suffered a setback that during a scholarship interview she was posed the question of her potential to pass but her answer had a bit of doubt and she was not accepted.
That means she had to find other means of meeting all expenses at university.
Fortunately, during her small stint in teaching she had managed to save enough and graduated from university in 1963.
This was followed by the scholarship to study in the United Kingdom from 1963 to 1971.
The rest is history, which the nation is quite familiar with and she owes this to the love she received during her upbringing in particularly through spiritual motivation.

Teaching and politics
All throughout the years, she had been teaching before she joined politics.
Ms Vakatale served in various government ministries and at one time she was the acting Prime Minister.
Looking back through those years, she is now content that she has been able to achieve her goals.

Her likes
Ms Vakatale said she always had this love for seafood especially vivili and has a special interest in reading and performing traditional dances like seasea and the meke iri (the fan dance).
“I also love drama especially Shakespeare and will be delighted at any opportunity to participate or even direct.
“Volkswagon is and will always be my favourite vehicle for as long as I live.”
On TV shows she would rather be watching CSI and Criminal Minds apart from her other past times like playing table tennis, chess and scrabble.

Her origin
Ms Vakatale hails from the Mataqali Sauturaga of the Yavusa Toronibau, Nakarawa being descendants of the Tui Nayavu of Yavu, Batiki in the Lomaiviti Group.

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