Monday, April 14, 2008


Many people would not remember an article on Abby Hvitfelt three years ago. The 89-year-old from York, Pennsylvania in the United States of America has been in Fiji for over 22 years. During that time she spent 20 years stuffing toy animals and dolls for children at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital's Children's Ward.
Her passion for putting smiles on the faces of tiny tots is somewhat inspirational.
She has been a role model for many volunteers in the country because she has spent endless days and nights shaping the animals and dolls, sewing, stuffing and finally adding colour and facial expressions to the toys.
All this for the sake of a child's happiness.
Her story about her journey to Fiji is quite pleasant and enjoyable.
Listening to her reminisce about how she got the idea to make stuffed toys for children at CWM makes one appreciate the value and contribution of volunteers in Fiji.
Her commitment and volunteer work was recognised in 1995 when she received the Order of Fiji for Service to the Community.
Abby as she is commonly called was born on March 12, 1919.
The youngest of three girls, her father was an electrician while her mother was a trade presbyterian deaconess.
From an early age, Abby wanted to be an explorer.
She wanted to explore Africa but when she found out her classmate had wanted to do the same thing, she discarded the idea almost instantly.
"I knew there simply was not enough room in Africa for the both of us. I didn't want to be a teacher so I opted for nursing. It was sort of my love affair with nursing.
"Growing up was middle-class. We lived through the depression and basically I had a very nice and happy upbringing.
"I never thought I would come to Fiji. In fact, the only time I ever heard about Fiji was when my mother used to say to us in the morning 'Your hair is like the bush in Fiji'.
"The school I attended was right across the street. It was McKinley Primary School and we had only grades
"One to Six. I later went on to attend Hannah Penn Junior High School and right opposite that I attended William Penn Senior High School.
"However, I lost my father when I was 16 years old."
After graduating from high school, Abby was not able to attend nursing school because she was not 18 years old. She was told that she was not 'emotionally mature' to enter. She then decided to do something while waiting to turn 18.
She worked as a cost accountant at an auto supply store where she worked a total of 48 hours a week.
Her second day job was dishing out ice-cream. Although exhausted at the end of the day, Abby did not mind.
"I then attended Union Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland for three years.
"I kept telling myself 'you're here to serve'. I have never regretted becoming a nurse. The fact that someone needed you and you're able to help is very fulfilling and definitely satisfying.
"In 1940, I married Richard Fogle.
"He was a navy officer and a year after we married he was sent to Honolulu, Hawaii where he served there until the war was over.
"I had wanted to join the service but they did not take married women. I was frustrated.
"In 1942, my son Richard Romany Fogle was born.
"Afterwards, I continued with nursing but life then was very difficult and I had to hire someone to sleep in my flat to look after my son while I was at work.
"You do these things if you have to. Later, when my son was 10 years old, I divorced my husband and remarried Axel Hvifelt.
"He was a professor in Economics."
Having four children later on, Abby then stayed home for almost five years playing mother and wife.
But knowing Abby, she was always doing something if not with a church group, she would be with friends decorating or making all sorts of craftswork.
She then worked part-time and continued to pursue her education.
At the age of 53, she graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree from SUNY Delhi in New York (State University of New York). She then taught nursing at the university for 11 years.
"Teaching scared me to death.
"I got my Masters when I was 65-years-old and I retired when I was 66. I needed to make a clean slate. My husband had gone back to Finland and our marriage was on the rocks so I divorced him and joined the Peace Corps.
"They sent me here and I had never been to Fiji, let alone left my country. I knew this was a whole new adventure for me and I was excited about coming here.
"On July 1, 1986, I arrived in Fiji as a Peace Corps volunteer.
"I served as Sister Tutor at the Fiji School of Nursing teaching medical, surgical and pediatric nursing. My term expired on October 1, 1988, but I was asked to stay on by the US Embassy.
"I used to visit children at the CWM Children's Ward and it was distressing for me to find that none of the children had toys.
"Some of the children are scared to death about being in hospitals so I thought if they had something they could hug then maybe they would feel a bit better."
Since then, Abby has been making stuffed toys with the help of friends and volunteers from Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The mother of five has made almost 24,000 stuffed toys and each toy is given to every child at the hospital.
Leaving in nine days time because of her health, Abby said she will always have a special place in her heart for Fiji and especially the children she's met at the hospital.
The secret to her living long is staying happy.


Adapted from Fijitimes Online