Sunday, April 20, 2008


IMAGINE closing your eyes for an hour while doing your work. It is not that easy but for the past 43 years, Akuila Rewatabua has lived a life where the sense of sight is not a privilege.
Born in 1963, Akuila has been blind since birth. Originally from Rukuruku Village on Ovalau, his parents were subsistence farmers. His parents are Petero and Lavenia Rewatabua. He is also the first cousin of rugby star Marika Vunibaka.
Being an only child and only blind boy in the village, Akuila found life hard at first especially having to depend on others around him to get through life. However, Akuila has always felt he would have to live his own life in the future. The interesting thing about Akuila is that his blindness is something he draws strength from and he strives to continue to excel in life no matter the obstacles he faces.
"I'm quite fortunate though, being an only child, my parents were never embarrassed about me. They were not frightened or ashamed to expose my disability. Instead, they tried to give me a normal upbringing like any other able bodied person.
"Not being able to see is different. There were times when I felt insecure about doing things and I had to depend on others to help me get through the day. It was hard at first but I realised that with confidence I am able to live my own life and achieve whatever I want."
Akuila said not being able to see did not stop him from wanting to achieve his dream of being a teacher. He started Class One at the Fiji School for the Blind when he was nine years old. He said Frank Hilton who founded Hilton Special School, went to Ovalau for a visit to identify children with disabilities. He was brought to Suva and stayed at the Tamavua Rehabilitation Unit.
"The first time I entered the classroom, I heard the superior voice of the teacher. I knew then I wanted to be a teacher. When I first came from the island, I didn't know how to speak the Bauan dialect. I didn't know how to speak English well.
"Going to school with other children was all new for me and I felt like I was in a different world altogether.
"I stayed at the Tamavua rehabilitation unit for two years until the Society for the Blind rented a house. I remember the head teacher at the time was Mr Khalil.
"When we were at school, we were not exposed to mainstream education. We were sort of isolated. I continued with the school curriculum and eventually I managed to complete up to Form Four level. I didn't want to waste time. I wanted to move on and face life."
His life was always full of challenges. Akuila said listening to his classmates speak in English and Hindi made him want to learn more about the world and people around him. He completed Form Four in 1978 and joined the Peace Corps as an interpreter for an evaluation project on old people. A multi-talented individual, Akuila was able to interpret Hindi and Fijian into English.
"The experience was an eye-opener and there were a lot of challenges but I took each challenge as it came and carried on with life despite being blind. I then worked as a switchboard operator for Stinson Pearce Limited from 1982 to 1985. I enjoyed what I did and learnt a lot there.
"I was then given the opportunity to further my education at the University of the South Pacific. I studied for a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Language. The owner of Stinson Pearce Limited, Peter Stinson, sponsored me. I have three more units until I graduate."
In 1988, Akuila achieved his dream of becoming a teacher. He defied all odds and taught Fijian and music at Naitasiri Secondary School. He then moved to Saint Thomas and Sigatoka Methodist.
He said being a teacher was difficult at first. It took time for the students to regard him as one of the able bodied teachers and he felt happy and glad that despite being blind he was able to achieve his goal. In 2003, he was in charge of fundraising for the United Blind Persons of Fiji where he later became the project officer three weeks ago. He is now the president for the Fiji Disabled People's Association.
"Life begins with you and ends with you. How you want your life to turn out depends on you. Having a disability is not the end of the world and it is not something to be ashamed of.
"Being blind made me grow into a more confident and responsible person. I earned the respect of many people and even in my village, they treat me as someone who has achieved a lot and I am proud of the things I accomplished in life," he said.