The result of their planning was an amazing event for the children! The men worked hard cooking the lovo feast. Kuini’s dad allowed no tasting ahead of time, as the food came off the hot rocks, and palm leaves were unwrapped. He said that’s the way he was brought up; the feast was for the guests, and no sampling was allowed until all was on the table. And an amazing feast it was, complete with chicken, rice, dalo, fish,
rho rho, ota, and a host of other traditional foods, with fresh pineapple, watermelon, and ice cream for dessert. Specific foods were brought in from different islands----the ota from Beqa (they say it’s the best!) They know their foods here!! For the program, we enjoyed short speeches, traditional dances for entertainment, some Christmas caroling, and a gift exchange for the children. There was time to mingle, and get to know one another during and after the meal.
As the party ended, all the parents got together again, to elect officers and plan for additional meetings to help support their children in the hostels. Kuini’s dad suggested they start a garden at the Junior boys hostel, to help the boys grow some of their own food. He offered to bring dalo plants to the next meeting, to get them started. Tavaita’s uncle was chosen to head up the parent group as president for next year. Ema’s mom will be the treasurer, and Elena’s mom the secretary.
Most of the parents had never met before the meetings, and began developing friendships, and sharing stories about their children. Merekarita’s dad was in tears as he shared with another parent how amazed he was at the change he had seen in his daughter after just one year in school. Another parent closed the program in prayer, thanking God for Gospel School for the Deaf, and the opportunities that were now available in Fiji for his son.
We were blessed by the gratitude of these parents, and their enthusiastic desire to support their children in school. That has not always been the case. We have had parent meetings at school in the past, but they were sporadically attended. But thanks to Tema, who actually involved the parents in planning an event together, the group is now off and running, taking seriously their role of supporting both school and hostels. Vinaka vaka levu, both to Tema and these wonderful parents!
Liti later made a second visit to the village with me, so I could talk more about the school with the family, and meet Joseph, their deaf son.
And if you’ll allow me to digress a bit, I’d like to tell you a little about Liti. She’s from the town of Nausori,
which is about a one and a half hour bus ride from the main hostel. She wakes up every weekday morning at 3, to cook her roti for the day and make her husband’s lunch. She then rushes off to catch the 5:30 bus to Suva, arriving around 7. At the hostel, she helps make the lunches, and also helps get the children off to school. Then, after the morning staff devotions and hostel meeting, she starts right in, preparing the evening meal for 50 some people. After a full day of work, she leaves the hostel at 4:30 and walks to catch the 5 o’clock bus back to Nausori, usually arriving around 7. Occasionally her husband, a cab driver, is in the area, and surprises her by swinging by to give her a lift home in his cab, which cuts her travel time quite a bit. Once at home, she’s back in the kitchen again, preparing the evening meal there. She tries to be in bed before 9, so she can get up again at 3. (I’m tired just writing about her day!) But Liti loves her job, loves the children, loves to cook, and always has a smile for everyone. I’ve never once heard her complain. I think she’s amazing!! And according to all reports, she’s a very good cook, too!! We’re thankful to have her on staff!
In addition to Joseph, we’ve also signed on 3 more deaf kids: Gloria, Joshua, and Penieli, all five years old---and each with his/her own story---to be told at another time. We also heard recently that one of our present students has a 3 year old brother who is also deaf. We’re excited to be finding children at younger ages now, in order to give them a better start in school. Our ‘child find’ teams will be going out to other islands over the holidays, and should be bringing back more deaf children. We’ll keep you posted on that!
Their insights were excellent, and the whole process was informative and very helpful. But mostly, everyone just enjoyed the opportunity to get to know these humble, gracious, and wise people! The hostel staff put on a great meal, which was well prayed for by four different students! (All wanted a turn!) I always love watching the kids pray their own thoughts in sign. The kids did some ‘items’ for entertainment, led by Kendra, our volunteer from America. Please keep John in your prayers, as he begins radiation treatment for prostate cancer when he returns to New Zealand.
The end of the year brought many challenges as well. Our Kiribati students became overstayers-----which means their visas would not be renewed, and they would not be allowed back into the country for the next school year. Also, food prices skyrocket after Hurricane Winston, and we had a significant cut in government funding. Thus, we finished the year with a lot of debt. We worried over how we would pay our teachers, and had a few sleepless nights. Jim’s favorite Bible verse is I Peter 5:7: “Cast all your worries on God, because He cares for you.” Sometimes we forget to do that, and attempt to work things out in our own strength. And even when we do remember, there are no guarantees that things will always work out as we wish. The circumstances may not change, but somehow WE are changed. And peace does come. These are lessons in trust.
The story does have a happy ending. Jim went to immigration, and managed to persuade the immigration officer to renew the visas, with a minimal penalty fee. Donations also began to come in, making it possible to meet the payroll, and pay off a portion of the debt.
We continue to grow, and recently signed on four new kindergarteners. We also have teams going out to Savusavu, on the next largest island, and to the island of Koro, to find deaf children and bring them to school. Most of these families are unable to pay school and hostel fees, but we never turn anyone away. We are grateful for those who support this ministry by sponsoring children, or giving to the general fund. We’re thankful too, for those who contribute in other ways, by volunteering time. An Indian family here in Suva volunteers by cooking the main meal for all of our hostels every Sunday---a wonderful gift! And farmers often donate produce, or fish. We are grateful to God for so many who have helped in so many ways throughout the year.
We also ask for prayer for the students as they go home to their villages. Many of the young deaf girls here are targets for abuse in their villages, because they do not speak. Please pray for their protection. We are also in need of one more teacher for next year, and someone to come alongside, and take over the ministry here in Fiji. Vinaka Vaka Levu!
Jim and Marilyn
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