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From Street Kid To Successful Company Owner

John Aitcheson’s memories will never leave him – espe­cially those of growing up as a seven year old kid in the streets of Suva, almost 37 years ago. This place,
29 Dec 2018 10:20
From Street Kid To Successful Company Owner
Fulori and John Aitcheson (second from left) with staff members of Althia Tours in Nadi. Photo: Charles Chambers

John Aitcheson’s memories will never leave him – espe­cially those of growing up as a seven year old kid in the streets of Suva, almost 37 years ago.

This place, the famous tunnels in Suva, had become home for him and was a far cry from the com­forts of home in Tonga where he was born.

About John Aitcheson

Today, Mr Aitcheson 42 is the managing director of Althia Tours, based in Nadi with a fleet of eight vehicles.

He is also the Sales and Market­ing Consultant for Belo Vula Re­sort on Bekana Island, just off Lautoka.

Together the couple grew the business from just one vehicle and has now added another company,

Althia Net Solutions and a flower arrangement company, Tahila to their name.

This flower company assists wom­en from the Nausori Highlands who sell flowers along Martintar in Nadi design arrangements for weddings at major resorts in the west.

He however never forgot the hard life he went through staying in the tunnels in Suva and forming a close bond with other street kids where any food brought in was shared.

He related his life story to me of growing up in the Suva and setting his mind on achieving a good edu­cation, which he did up to univer­sity level.

The tunnel in Toorak he called ‘home’ and the warmth of the friendship of 13 other children who huddled together on wooden pallets overcame the cold and dampness of the surroundings.

A stream flowed under the pallets on which they lay and potato and onion bags were hung against the damp clay walls to give them some sort of comfort.

He wanted to share it as an inspi­ration for people who have been left out to fend for themselves by families and friends.

About his wife and parents

His wife, Fulori, 26, also a direc­tor of the company sat beside him during this exclusive interview, providing comfort to John as he related his childhood days.

John was born in Tonga and was adopted by a John Jack k Aitcheson and his wife Maraia Si­latolu.

Mr Aitcheson senior was a copra plantation manager on Vava’u and took John, only a baby at that time under his care.

Later the couple, who did not have any children of their own, returned to Fiji with their adopted son and settled in Nausori.

“When I was seven, my adopted parents died and I was taken in by a couple – the man was from Rewa and his wife from a village in Ra,” Mr Aitcheson said.

“Because they had children of their own, I was slowly seen as the outcast in the family and that is when the ill-treatment started,” he said.

John paused and tears started streaming down his face and in a halting voice said: ”I cannot tell you the things I endured.”

He was slowly rejected by the family and pushed out of the home and then began his street life.

“When I was finally chased out of the house, at seven-years-old, I made my way down to Suva. I saw a boy looking for food in a stack of rubbish and joined him as I was really hungry,” John said, his face once again crumbling with emo­tion,” he said.

After finding what little grub they could, John followed the boy to his home, the tunnel and started a new life with a newfound family.

“Boy it was cold in the tunnel as water continuously ran below the pallets,” he said.

“At times when it rained heavily and the tunnel started to fill with water, we would make our way to below the Bailey bridge near the Suva wharf and sleep in the open spaces – at least it was warm,” he said.

An old lady, whom the street kids affectionately called ‘Bubu’ (grandmother), used to come around providing some food to them.

“She was from the St Vincent de Paul Society, a ministry which belonged to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese,” he said.

“That old lady was my turn­ing point and I wish she was still around now because I owe a lot to her,” John said.

The lady started encouraging John to go to school and this start­ed with pre-school in a shed in Toorak

“After school, we would return to the tunnel,” he said.

He was then taken by the old lady and got enrolled at Suva Primary School.

“She arranged uniforms for us when we started school. We used to take our clothes to the Hari Krish­na temple and use the water from a tank there to shower, then change and off to school.”

The lady would also arrange cas­ual work for them at supermarkets for them to earn some money.

“With the money we earned, Bubu took some and with that she bought our school materials and clothes and the remainder we used on food.

“One thing is that whatever any­one brought ‘home’, even if it was a small packet of biscuits, was shared equally by everyone.”

One of the saddest occasions that John came across was when they learnt ‘Bubu’ had passed away – this was after she had not turned up to their tunnel for several days.

Soon after those living in the tun­nel, he started to move out homes for John being taken in by a fam­ily in Browning Street in Raiwaqa. However after a few days he re­turned to the tunnel but was soon taken in by a pastor who came by there one day.

Aitcheson perserverance for a better life

Mr Aitcheson’s perseverance to strive for a better life for himself earned him a place at Queen Victo­ria School where he reached form six level.

He returned to Suva and complet­ed form seven at Nasinu Second­ary School.

John then moved on to the former Fiji Institute of Technology in Sa­mabula studying Business Man­agement which was a three year course.

Following this, John was enlisted in the British army and was based at Bathurst until he took the re­dundancy package that saw him return to Fiji.

Tourism sector

On his arrival, John did not waste time and tried his hands on differ­ent ventures including baking, grass cutting but later managed to get into his real mode of work.

He started his career in the tour­ism and hospitality industry and has never looked back.

From a trainee sales manager at different hotels, including those under the Hexagon Group which were West motor Inn, Sea Shell Cove and Grand West.

He also became human resource manager at different hotels and re­sorts in the west.

During this time he started dat­ing Fulori who was also in the tourism industry and they soon found out one common passion they shared.

“We wanted to spend the rest of our lives helping people in need, especially poor children.”

“I wanted to do this because the Lord has been good to me all through those tough times and brought me to where I am today,” he said.

“Fulori and I have dedicated our lives to helping those in need – just giving back to God the glory he has

John said his career in the tour­ism sector could not have come about without the guidance of the late Bruce Mooney of Coral Sun.

“He was like a father to me and guided me through my initial years in the tourism sector,” he said.

John and Fulori began their com­pany on September 30 2014 and the couple has two children.

He speaks Tongan, Samoan, Pi­dgin English, Fijian and Hindi flu­ently.

He carries out workshops and talks to youth groups in villages and encourages them to work to­wards a better life.

Feedback: maraia.vula@fijisun.com.fj



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