Second chance at life

Goundar Shipping’s Lomaiviti Princess V steward Onisimo Votea helps passengers from the ship. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

Young people with learning difficulties, physical disability or socio-economic disadvantage tend to drop out of school early.

If he had not persevered, the same could have been said about Onisimo Votea, whose childhood education was hampered by a reading disability.

Onisimo wanted to attend a mainstream Catholic-based secondary school but had to go to Marist Champagnat Institute in Vatuwaqa, Suva, instead because he was a slow reader.

“I was very slow in reading and found it difficult to pronounce words. It took a bit of convincing from my mum, before I finally accepted the fact that going to MCI was probably the best opportunity available to me.”

A few years later, the teenager, who was once sceptical about attending the vocational school, graduated from it and found employment on a ship.

The Goundar Shipping’s Lomaiviti Princess V steward believes his job is a stepping stone to greater things ahead.

Onisimo believes without his secondary school education at MCI, life would have been a rocky journey.

“The school gave me a second chance at education and I would like to thank the brothers who run the school.

I was so lucky to attend it because it was suited for students with special needs like me. Teachers came down to my level,” the 24-year-old from Naivilaca, Rewa said.

In 2000, the Marist Brothers in Fiji opened MCI, a multicultural and co-educational school for post primary students with learning difficulties and special needs.

It was the only one of its kind to be registered with the Ministry of Education, targeted at offering programs to young people who had struggled to fit into mainstream schooling.

At MCI, the initial two years focus on learning how to learn, literacy, numeracy and building self-confidence.

At its completion, students are encouraged to return to mainstream schools or undertake a further two years of vocational training in computing, catering, tailoring, agriculture, engineering, woodwork or childcare.

The vocational students generate a small but steady income stream each year by selling the items they produce and learn basic business management skills in the process.

“God gave us different talents. Some are good in writing, some can easily pass exams and not all can get white collar jobs.

This is where the MCI comes in, to bridge the gap and help students who are left behind in school.”

After class assessment, Onisimo still did not make the cut to be sent to a mainstream school.

He did not give up hope and opted to stay for two more years to do vocational courses instead. After MCI he did a few tourism and hospitality courses before he was given a job to work on LP5 eight months ago.

“I believe we need to have more schools like MCI. We need to also encourage young people who have learning disabilities to take other options.

“My mum told me to go to Champagnat. I didn’t want to go there because I knew it was a place for slow learners and I was ashamed, but look at where it took me.”

Onisimo said apart from his teachers’ support, he persevered because he always had his mum’s unfailing help.

“I thank her for being the father and mother of our family. She tried her best to look after me and my three siblings. Without her I don’t know where I’d be. “I was too young to remember losing my dad. But I remember that I often felt sad when I looked at children who had fathers. Mum used to tell us she was our dad and she would take care of our needs.”

Onisimo said while single mothers were often looked at negatively, they were very important in ensuring children were brought up in an environment of love and care.

“I encourage all single parents in Fiji to give the best to their kids and be positive despite the challenges you may face. What you are doing is priceless.”

Onisimo’s work on board LP5 involves looking after the ship’s officers, including the captain, chief mate and chief engineer, cleaning their rooms and preparing their meals and helping out during disembarking and embarking stops.

Before becoming a seafarer, he worked in the tourism industry for a while and also spent his three-month study attachment there.

“Now I enjoy my work on the ship because I like meeting people, handling people’s needs and doing customer service. Everyone on board is also very friendly and I enjoy their company.

“Though I am far away from home, the people on board are my family. I love my job and taking one day at a time. I am waiting for God’s time in my life because his time is always good time.

“When growing up I always wanted be a flight attendant. I am still working on it and believe one day I will be one.”

Asked whether he had any advice to young people, Onisimo said: “Young people should not look down on themselves.

Follow your dreams and what your heart tells you. Do it to the best of your ability and you will reach your goal.”

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