My name is Nirmala Balram. I am the daughter of Prem Kuar and Mohan Singh originally of Ba Province, Western Fiji. I am very proud of my heritage, as I am 3rd generation Indo-Fijian of indentured labor, who came to Fiji in the late 1800s.
I went to St Teresa’s Primary School in Ba. I later continued my studies at Dudley High School in Suva and then to India where I did my Bachelor of Science from the University of Madras. I later continued my studies at the University of the South Pacific where I completed my Post-graduate Teaching Certificate. Upon securing the Conservator’s job at the Fiji Museum, I was able to pursue and completed my Post-graduate Diploma in Cultural Heritage Management specializing in Conservation of Cultural Heritage from the University of Canberra, Australia
Where are you based now?
I am now living with my family in Wellington, New Zealand
What work do you do and please explain what your work involves?
I am a Conservator for Ethnographic objects at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. I specialize in maintaining and conserving taonga or treasures from Maori and Pacific cultures. Added in the mix is Contemporary Sculpture. My job involves examining, assessing, treating and preparing objects for museum exhibitions and proper storage. I also recommend the best environmental conditions and supports for all objects both on exhibition and in museum storage spaces.
It is fundamental that one must have an interest in the arts and culture. One must also aim to build his or her cultural knowledge to understand other different cultures. On a day-to-day basis, having a great analytical ability, a good manual dexterity and with an overall good communication skills are bonuses to the job.
What are some challenges you face in this career?
One of the biggest challenges in this line of work is when you aim to fulfill the community’s needs to use certain objects for display and ceremonies while on the other hand; it is tough to conserve the same objects to last for generations to come so that future generations can enjoy using them too
What are some of the benefits you gain in this career?
I find my line of work to be a great privilege. I feel honored to be holding treasures that have been made hundreds of years ago. I have now developed a deep understanding of different cultural norms and protocols as well as an appreciation of different cultures far beyond what I was accustomed to.
If you have traveled internationally with your work, what place do you enjoy the most and why:
I enjoy traveling and every time I travel, it provides different sets of opportunities and experiences for me. For example in Japan I enjoyed and learnt a lot about working in a very polite and humble society. In France, I enjoyed the opportunity of being able to experience many of the artworks like the Mona Lisa that I had only read about. I have also traveled around Fiji. The Fiji Museum is a good example of a Pacific museum that stands tall amongst the rest of the world
What advice would you give young ones who want to pursue this career?
My advice is to go for your dreams! Reach out, but remember, you may not reach your goal or succeed sooner that you may think. You have to be patient and put the hard yards first. The path that you may follow may be difficult but in the end the opportunities to excel in what you do is enormous. In terms of working in a Museum as a Conservator, to work with cultural objects on a one to one basis with taonga (treasures) is very special and fulfilling, so its worth all the studies and perseverance. I did not get to do this work overnight. It took a lot of sacrifice so I can be where I am now. If I can make it, you can too!
How did you know about Fijituwawa.com, and if you would like to recommend this site to others, why should you do so?
My good friend Tarisi Vunidilo informed me about this site. It’s an honor to read about our Pacific and Fijian friends who have achieved high goals in New Zealand. This site will provide encouragement and incentive to young people to reach out and achieve their goals.