Toga Reaches for the Sky

mailife - - Contents - By MELA KATONIVUALIKU Pho­tos SUP­PLIED

WALK­ING to school bare­foot and col­lect­ing cow dung in the af­ter­noons as ma­nure for the school gar­dens is how Toga Mata­moana Loco spent his child­hood days while both his par­ents taught at Vatukace­vaceva Pri­mary School in Raki­raki. The school where Loco spent six years of his life is about eight miles from Raki­raki Town to­wards the Nakau­vadra Hills. He at­tended Class 1 to 6 be­fore his par­ents trans­ferred to Suva. Now the 30-year-old Saioko Vil­lager from Nako­ro­tubu in Ra is a Flight Lieu­tenant in the Royal Air Force arm of the Bri­tish Armed Forces. His fa­ther Kulini­asi and his late mother,Ta­ufa Fa, gave Loco a proper ru­ral boy up­bring­ing which helped this go-get­ter achieve his goals in life. “It was fun. We had a sugar cane farm and would spend some af­ter­noons and week­ends work­ing onit,” he said. “It was a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence and laid the foun­da­tion for how my per­son­al­ity and char­ac­ter de­vel­oped in later years.” In 1989, Loco’s fam­ily moved to Suva where he at­tended Dud­ley In­ter­me­di­ate School for two years. “My first day at Dud­ley was a bit of a cul­ture shock – trav­el­ling to school in a school bus, wear­ing shoes to school, hav­ing spend­ing money and mix­ing with kids who came from all sorts of back­ground.” Loco later at­tended Ma­hatma Gandhi Memo­rial High School,Form 3 to 7. “That was an­other ex­pe­ri­ence, at­tend­ing school with mostly Gu­jarati kids. I learnt a lot from how they looked at life and how they seem to have their life planned – with most of them tak­ing over their fa­ther’s busi­ness or study­ing Ac­count­ing at USP and then em­i­grat­ing to ei­ther New Zealand or Aus­tralia.” Loco grad­u­ated with a Bach­e­lor of Arts ma­jor­ing in Eco­nomics af­ter a three year study stint at the Univer­sity of the South Pa­cific 1996-1999. He then joined Tele­com Fiji Ltd (TFL) as a Grad­u­ate Man­age­ment Trainee. “I did var­i­ous roles within TFL un­til Fe­bru­ary 2005. During this time, I was do­ing some part time work as a marker for the USP Ex­ten­sion Cen­tre. I used to mark Eco­nomics as­sign­ments for stu­dents do­ing Foun­da­tion stud­ies. In my free time, I

en­rolled at the Al­liance Fran­caise in Suva to learn French, which was jolly good fun.” In July 2005, Loco went to the United King­dom to at­tend a four day of­fi­cer andair­crew se­lec­tion at theRoyal Air Force Sta­tion in Cran­well, Lin­colnshire. “I passed and waited al­most 15 months to start the Ini­tial Of­fi­cer Train­ing Course at the Royal Air Force Col­lege in Cran­well in Oc­to­ber 2006. I passed out in May 2007.” Grow­ing up in Fiji during the coups of 1987 and 2000, Loco had a very neg­a­tive view­point of the mil­i­tary and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers in gen­eral. “I al­ways thought that the RFMF as an in­sti­tu­tion was a waste of tax­payer funds as there was no threat of Fiji be­com­ing over­thrown by its neigh­bours.” Hav­ing a mind of an econ­o­mist, Loco saw both coups as slow­ing the econ­omy. “In my mind, both coups were re­spon­si­ble for slow­ing Fiji’s eco­nomic pros­per­ity – I’m a stu­dent of eco­nomics so any­one or any­thing that was a bar­rier to eco­nomic progress was evil. My views have changed since then,” he said. “It wasn’t un­til I started do­ing more in depth re­search into how pro­fes­sional mil­i­taries are run that my view­point started to change.“I came across one of Tony’s Blair’s speech where he said that the Bri­tish mil­i­tary should be aorce for Good. That res­onated with me for quite a long time. I then read Colin Pow­ell’s bi­og­ra­phy and was might­ily im­pressed with how he pro­gressed from a work­ing class black fam­ily in the Bronx to be­com­ing the first non-white to be Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US Mil­i­tary. That ex­pe­ri­ence tipped the scale for me.” Loco came to a con­clu­sion that mil­i­taries or gov­ern­ments are run by lead­ers, hu­man be­ings just like you and me. “If we train the lead­ers with prin­ci­ples of good lead­er­ship/ gov­er­nance and with good val­ues that drive their de­ci­sion­mak­ing process then we have a fight­ing chance of suc­cess in us­ing the mil­i­tary as a Force for Good (as op­posed to be­ing a Force for Bad). That drove me to aim for join­ing up as a Com­mis­sioned Of­fi­cer as op­posed to join­ing the NonCom­mis­sioned rank.” Loco ad­heres to a quote by Ed­mund Burke which states

‘the only thing nec­es­sary for the tri­umph of evil is that good men do noth­ing.’ “I did not want to be the good men that did noth­ing. I wanted to be a con­duit for do­ing good and join­ing the RAF as an of­fi­cer was part of that jour­ney.” As a Flight Lieu­tenant (which is equiv­a­lent to a Cap­tain in the Army or Lieu­tenant in the Navy), Loco works as part of a small team that trains the Royal Air Force Ex­pe­di­tionary Air Wings Head­quar­ters staff be­fore they de­ploy any­where in the world. On the home front, Loco is mar­ried to Sandra Loco (nee Bothma) who is from Cen­tu­rion, Gaut­eng, South Africa. Cen­tu­rion is a town be­tween Pre­to­ria and Jo­han­nes­burg. The cou­ple met in church at Guild­ford, Sur­rey in March 2006 and now have two daugh­ters and a son – Felic­ity is 7, Larissa is 5 and Toby is 3 years old. “I was liv­ing at Alder­shot, Hamp­shire at the time, wait­ing to get into the RAF. I used to at­tend Guil­ford Sev­enth Day Ad­ven­tist (SDA) Church every Satur­day and there she was. We be­came friendly and the rest is his­tory as they say.“Be­lieve it or not I later pro­posed to her on bended knees with a ring.” The first time Loco went to South Africa was in March 2007 when he asked Sandra’s dad for her hand in mar­riage. “He didn’t say yes straight away. All he said was ‘we shall see’”. Loco and Sandra got mar­ried in Pre­to­ria, South Africa in Jan­uary 2008 and he has vis­ited South Africa seven times since then. “Given the racial his­tory (apartheid) of South Africa, me be­ing a black man and mar­ry­ing Sandra was quite un­usual. Sandra is Afrikaans of Dutch an­ces­try. In her so­ci­ety, mar­ry­ing a black man is al­most un­think­able let alone un­heard of, how­ever when two peo­ple fall in love, skin color, cul­tural and lan­guage dif­fer­ences be­come se­condary.” “What helped us a lot in our jour­ney is our faith in God. That’s the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor that drives and binds us to­gether.“We both come from con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian up­bring­ings so we were raised with the same val­ues and be­liefs, al­beit on dif­fer­ent parts of the world. That’s the glue that holds us to­gether when our re­la­tion­ship is tested with cul­tural ex­pec­ta­tions and dif­fer­ences.” Not one to for­get his roots, Loco brought Sandra to Fiji in De­cem­ber 2007 when they spent a week in his vil­lage. “Some vil­lage kids were fas­ci­nated by the sight of a white woman. We were swim­ming in the sea with some vil­lage kids one day and they kept say­ing in the Ra di­alect ‘u sa vulavula dina na du­ana’ (ohhh her legs are so white).” In Au­gust 2013, Loco came for a sec­ond visit to Fiji, this time along with his two daugh­ters Felic­ity and Larissa, to see his sick mother. “Just weeks af­ter we left, Mum passed away,” he said. Loco misses home and his Fiji fam­ily. “I miss my Mum but mostly I miss so­cial­is­ing with friends and fam­ily that we have back home. I re­mem­ber my late grand­fa­ther (Mum’s dad) used to hold an ‘eat to­gether’ every time some­one achieved some­thing.” “It cre­ated this bond amongst the fam­ily mem­bers which I don’t get to ex­pe­ri­ence here since most of my ex­tended fam­ily live in Fiji.” An older sis­ter, Inise also mar­ried a Bri­tish Army soldier and is liv­ing in the UK, As a vol­un­teer for Fiji Sup­port Net­work (FSN) since 2009, Loco said one of the big chal­lenges that he has come across is our cul­tural ten­dency to be­lieve sto­ries we hear around the talanoa cir­cles as op­posed to do­ing the re­search for our­selves and get­ting the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion on is­sues. “We need to be more thirsty and in­quis­i­tive for in­for­ma­tion. In­for­ma­tion is power. If we have the wrong in­for­ma­tion, we have no power. If we have the cor­rect in­for­ma­tion, then we are in a much bet­ter place to con­trol and shape our des­tiny.” Loco re­cently grad­u­ated with a Mas­ter of Science (MSc) in Per­for­mance Man­age­ment and Work­place Learn­ing. “It took me five years of part­time study to get it done,pheww! It was a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery; both dis­cov­er­ing how much ca­pac­ity I can gen­er­ate by mul­ti­task­ing and dis­cov­ery of new knowl­edge and facts.” “My Msc jour­ney was fraught with fail­ures as well as suc­cess. I failed my first as­sign­ment, got the feed­back. I made the changes and re­sub­mit­ted. I failed my dis­ser­ta­tion, got the feed­back. I made the changes and re­sub­mit­ted. In both in­stances, suc­cess even­tu­ally came.”

It was chal­leng­ing for Loco, hav­ing to jug­gle rais­ing three lit­tle chil­dren, hold­ing a full­time job and a host of other du­ties that he gets in­volved in, like church and com­mu­nity events. Loco con­sid­ers life in the forces as quite good as he has met lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple, vis­ited dif­fer­ent places that he could only dream of as a small boy grow­ing up in ru­ral Raki­raki and he has learnt a lot of new skills that he wouldn’t have learnt any­where else. “I have learnt how to ski (lol!) It was com­i­cal for the first day and half learn­ing how to bal­ance but I got there in the end.” During his first few years in the RAF, Loco found the tran­si­tion chal­leng­ing. “It was a steep learn­ing curve; adapt­ing to how the RAF does its busi­ness, un­der­stand­ing the nu­ances of the Bri­tish cul­ture and more im­por­tantly learn­ing to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent re­gional ac­cents in the UK. I am in a much bet­ter place now.” Loco’s ad­vice is to those want­ing the same ca­reer path as he took is to dream big, work hard and stay hum­ble. “Don’t let any­one tell you that you are not good enough. No one ex­cept me and God gave me a chance to join up as a Com­mis­sioned Of­fi­cer in HM RAF. Even my own fam­ily mem­bers were quite skep­ti­cal and thought I was aim­ing for the moon (vana­vananavula). I took the first step in faith, did the re­search, filled out the pa­per­work and worked at it. I prayed about it a lot and the rest is his­tory.” Loco added not to let fail­ure de­fine you. “Some of us will never re­al­ize our full po­ten­tial be­cause we are so scared to fail. Fail­ure is de­ferred suc­cess if you learn the les­son every time and make the im­prove­ments on the next at­tempt. Suc­cess will even­tu­ally come.”

Fiji meets South Africa…the Lo­cos

Toga af­ter re­ceiv­ing his mas­ters de­gree.

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