Feature

Soko Stands Tall In Male Dominated Fields Of Work

“It was a disciplined childhood, very much like the military itself. We grew up in a time when there used to be weekly barrack inspections,” Ms Soko said.
17 Oct 2021 11:48
Soko Stands Tall In Male Dominated Fields Of Work
The Director of the National Disaster Management Office, Vasiti Soko has won the inaugural Women’s International Network on Disaster Risk Reduction Excellence Award. Photo: Ronald Kumar

She is smart, beautiful, driven and when she decides to take the bull by its horn, no challenge is too big.

It was during her first year in tertiary when Vasiti Soko walked past a lecture theatre at the University of the South Pacific’s Laucala Campus and noticed that there were no female in the class.

This made her inquire what this class was. It was Land Management. The roll was 100 per cent male.

She had a point to prove.

The Accountings and Economics student dropped her units and changed her majors to Land Management.

Fast forward two decades later she is Fiji’s expert in the highly technical field of geospatial science and surveying.

She is also Fiji’s first woman to become the director for the National Disaster Management Office. A role she was offered after excelling through the roles she had.

Brilliance does not go unnoticed.

Just two days ago, Ms Soko won the inaugural Women’s International Network on Disaster Risk Reduction Excellence Award.

Tears streamed down her face. A few weeks ago she lost her mother. This was the kind of thing she would always call her mother first before anyone to tell, as she has done in the past.

A military child

Ms Soko hails from the island of Matuku in Lau and has maternal links to Kadavu.

She is third in the line of five siblings. The middle child.

Her father was a military officer and the family resided at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks.

“It was a disciplined childhood, very much like the military itself. We grew up in a time when there used to be weekly barrack inspections,” Ms Soko said.

“It was our job to ensure that everything was spick and span. From the taps to the walls, almost every inch of the barrack had to be spotless.

“I guess that was one of those things that helped shape the way I am today.”

Ms Soko attained her primary school education at Delainamasi Government School before moving to Lelean Memorial School.

She had to go to the Davuilevu school because it was a family tradition. However, she finished her high school education at Adi Cakobau School.

Being an arts student, her initial course of study had her pursuing a career in Accounting and Economics.

This was until the fateful day she crossed that lecture theatre filled with men.

A mover and shaker

After university, Ms Soko’s first job was at the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission or SOPAC.

At SOPAC, it was a learning ground and the perfect place to lay the foundations of a brilliant career.

She moved to the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB). It was during her tenure with the TLTB she met her husband, a medical doctor.

Following that she moved to the Town and Country Planning office and then to the Sugar Industry Tribunal.

Her industry experience spans more than 15 years in the highly technical field of geospatial science and surveying.

During her stint with the Sugar Industry Tribunal as its GIS Manager, Ms Soko worked on creating the first GIS web portal that not only linked Fiji’s four main sugarcane mills remotely but also published live harvesting data during crushing season.

This information was then overlaid with climate data to identify high risk farms.

She then went to pursue her Masters in Geospatial Science.

Before that she spent time in Nauru where her husband was working and then spent two years in Vatukoula as her husband was employed at the mine.

Following that she studied in Melbourne, Australia and her research work focused on the impact of Fiji’s new datum to which she updated the transformation parameters for Fiji’s maritime boundary which was initially done by GeoScience Australia.

The NDMO role

She was handpicked for the role of NDMO director becoming the first woman to head the agency which leads responses to disasters and plays a key role in building resilience.

It was a challenge when she joined and as her nature dictates she was going to put to test the notions of many about working in a male-dominated profession like hers.

Since taking over NDMO, some significant achievements were the Partial Relocation of Narikoso Community due to sea level rise, the establishment of Fiji’s Community Disaster Risk Management Training Manual, Fiji becoming the first country in the world to validate target E of the Sendai framework 2020, reviewed the Natural Disaster Management Act, completed renovation for Fiji’s NDMO warehouse and having the biggest reach on advocating on disaster preparedness, mitigation, response and early recovery through different forms of media platforms.

She is currently the co-chair for Pacific Technical Working Group (TWG) on Human Mobility, Deputy Chair for Asia – Pacific, Technical Working Group (TWG) on Disaster-related Statistics and CO- Chair for the Pacific Response to Disaster Displacement Advisory Board.

She introduced sign language in all media briefings.

COVID-19

Not many people know this but the NDMO is charged with leading the charge with the community approach.

Ms Soko helped in the design of a portal which helped identify communities at risk and unvaccinated communities so the Ministry of Health could target their approach towards them.

The pandemic also meant that Ms Soko spent time away from home.

She said the pandemic meant she spent more time away from home and her four children.

“I am blessed with the support from my family, especially from my husband and children. My eldest daughter who is 12, has been taking charge of her siblings,” Ms Soko said.

“This has been a testing experience for all of us.”

Ms Soko is young and still has big plans for the NDMO.

She is looking at the challenges and smiling in her stride as she overcomes hurdle after hurdle.

Edited by Selita Rabuku 

Feedback: shalveen.chand@fijisun.com.fj



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