Mere Tora - Among USP’s first 1971 Grad­u­a­tion

mailife - - Contents - By JOHN MITCHELL Pho­tos by JONE LU­VEN­I­TOGA

In 1971, Mere Sau Tora(nee Voro) be­came the first iTaukei woman to grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of the South Pa­cific. Her jour­ney started from the re­mote vil­lage of Wainika in the dis­trict of Tawake on the Udu Penin­sula, Cakau­drove Province, in North­ern Vanua Levu. She was the sec­ond el­dest in a fam­ily of nine sib­lings and at­tended Wainika Dis­trict School dur­ing her pri­mary years and later Niu­sawa Methodist School on Tave­uni and Le­lean Me­mo­rial School, Nau­sori. This year is USP’s 50th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions and this is­sue of maiL­ife takes a brief look at Tora’s ed­u­ca­tion at USP dur­ing those early years and her ca­reer in the civil ser­vice. Grow­ing up as a young girl from a large ru­ral fam­ily, Tora had her dreams set on so­cial work, in par­tic­u­lar the area of coun­sel­ing, but she later switched to an­other vo­ca­tion. She said veer­ing off her dream path and join­ing a dif­fer­ent field was a “chance en­counter” but some­thing she never re­grets to this day. “USP was of­fer­ing an in­au­gu­ral di­ploma pro­gramme for se­condary teach­ing in 1969, its sec­ond year of ex­is­tence. This was an at­trac­tive op­tion for school leavers like me,” she said. “I never re­gret­ted that change all along. Teach­ing was a very re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and it pre­pared me for other stages of my ca­reer.” But the prepa­ra­tion for Tora’s long and re­ward­ing ac­quain­tance with one of the world’s no­blest pro­fes­sion – teach­ing, wasn’t all too easy. There were sac­ri­fices to make and chal­lenges to meet. “The course I was do­ing was a new one and my dif­fi­culty was not hav­ing a ref­er­ence point on what was done pre­vi­ously as a guide. My lec­tur­ers were all ex­pa­tri­ates and ap­proach­ing them was some­what in­tim­i­dat­ing.” “At the per­sonal level, there was no ac­com­mo­da­tion on cam­pus for mar­ried stu­dents and this was a chal­lenge in my fi­nal year es­pe­cially.” USP’s mod­ern struc­tures and fa­cil­i­ties en­joyed to­day are a far cry from the rudi­men­tary ameni­ties pro­vided for stu­dents in the early years of the univer­sity. “We used the build­ings that the Royal New Zealand Air Force left be­hind and I see some of these still stand­ing to­day. There were no lec­ture the­atres such as those of to­day and the li­brary was

a small one with lim­ited vol­umes and def­i­nitely not much on the Pa­cific. “Be­cause of the scat­tered na­ture of build­ings on cam­pus we were walk­ing to and fro be­tween upper, mid­dle and lower cam­pus, of­ten on open foot­paths fringed by para­grass. Apart from the many struc­tural in­ad­e­qua­cies, Tora said the prob­lem of ed­u­ca­tional ac­cess and lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties for women was also no­tice­able. “In gen­eral terms, the op­por­tu­nity for girls in terms of ca­reer choice is much wider now than be­fore, re­flect­ing not only what is avail­able in the job mar­ket but also the shift in at­ti­tude of par­ents and the move away from a gen­der- bi­ased school cur­ricu­lum. “Girl stu­dents are also bet­ter sup­ported now to pur­sue their dreams through pri­vate and pub­lic fund­ing. The USP of to­day like­wise pro­vides a wider range of study pro­grammes women can pur­sue and ex­cel in.” Chal­lenges aside, one good thing did come out of her univer­sity years. It was meet­ing her late hus­band Maika Tora from Vi­sei­sei, Vuda and get­ting mar­ried. They had four chil­dren, two of whom now have fam­i­lies of their own. “The best out­come from my USP early days was mar­ry­ing a fel­low stu­dent, my late hus­band, in the later part 1970 and go­ing on to suc­cess­fully com­plete my pro­gramme to be part of the first grad­u­a­tion in 1971.” She vividly re­mem­bers her grad­u­a­tion day and de­scribed it as “a very spe­cial mo­ment”. “It was full of ex­cite­ment and had a real buzz be­ing the first ever grad­u­a­tion. It was some­what sur­real but with a sense of ela­tion and re­lief af­ter three years of hard work with all its highs and lows. “It was a very spe­cial mo­ment shared with loved ones and there was much ju­bi­la­tion and cel­e­bra­tion all round.” Tora’s years at USP in the late 1960s and early 1970s seemed like a new fron­tier. She said with­out the up­bring­ing she had from her par­ents and their unerring sup­port, not only for her but her other sib­lings, things would have been much more try­ing. “My par­ents were sim­ple vil­lage folks who worked very hard to sup­port nine chil­dren on a semi-sub­sis­tence in­come. They in­stilled in me very early in life the value of hard work and dili­gence. “They be­longed to a gen­er­a­tion that had re­ceived only a very ba­sic for­mal ed­u­ca­tion but wanted their chil­dren to go be­yond and make it in life out­side of the vil­lage. “I went to board­ing school at the age of ten and re­mem­ber in the mid­dle of my sob­bing, my fa­ther’s part­ing words –“Lai vuli va’akaukauwa mo yaga mai muri”. (Go study hard to be a bless­ing, use­ful in the fu­ture.”) Two of Tora’s sib­lings went on to at­tain PhDs while three got Mas­ters, a true tes­ti­mony of the value of ded­i­ca­tion and per­se­ver­ance in achiev­ing great­ness. Af­ter teach­ing for three years Tora went back to USP in 1975 to do a Bach­e­lor of Ed­u­ca­tion for two years. She was awarded a Mas­ter of Arts in 1997. She taught in three se­condary schools for a to­tal of 16 years be­fore mov­ing to ed­u­ca­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion for nine years. From 2000 un­til re­tire­ment in Au­gust 2017, she worked in the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter for four years and in the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs’ for­eign ser­vice for twelve. Since re­tir­ing last year, Tora has found new things to keep busy. She now en­joys spend­ing qual­ity time on fam­ily, com­mu­nity en­gage­ments and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, among oth­ers. “A col­league re­minded me lately that there is noth­ing called ‘re­tire­ment’. And I tend to agree. In the nar­row sense per­haps I have re­tired from a ca­reer as a pub­lic ser­vant but I find there is no idle mo­ment,” she said. “There are things to do for and with fam­ily, com­mu­nity etc and more time to do the things I love – gar­den­ing, read­ing,

spend­ing time with my two grand­chil­dren, solv­ing the Fiji Times daily cross­word puz­zle and walk­ing, to name a few. “When time al­lows her, she likes to cook one of her spe­cial tie s-tu ki lam ula mus uruwa, lemon grass fl av our ed fish curry cooked w it heg­g­plants,b hindi and pump­kin in a pool of thick co­conut milk. She may even whip up a tray of rich cas­sava cake or con­coct a hot cup of cof­fee (us­ing a Bre­ville cof­fee ma­chine she got from Welling­ton) if you are a guest at her Upper Ragg Av­enue home. “I have had a year of tran­si­tion and I am now look­ing for­ward to God’s pur­pose for me this sea­son.” That pur­pose in­cludes work­ing as a vol­un­teer for Homes of Hope, a char­ity faith-based or­gan­i­sa­tion that works em­pow­ers young women and chil­dren who are vic­tims of sex­ual abuse and vi­o­lence. She will help with net­work­ing and find­ing “friends of the home”. “I changed my dreams of be­com­ing a so­cial worker and took up teach­ing. Now my life has come full cir­cle and I’m do­ing the very thing that I ini­tially wanted to do. I am ex­cited of what lies ahead.” To main­tain her vi­brant hair and skin, she lives largely on veg­eta­bles, fruits and fish. “I treat my body as God’s tem­ple so I make sure I eat healthy. I also walk and just try to live a sim­ple life of con­tent. Those are my health se­crets.” Look­ing back at her life and ca­reer, Tora as­cribes her many suc­cesses to her Chris­tian val­ues. “My work and life phi­los­o­phy is founded on my val­ues as a Chris­tian guided by God’s Word, in par­tic­u­lar Colos­sians 3:23 – ‘And what­ever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.’ “In other words, giv­ing my best in what­ever I do, no mat­ter how small the task and ir­re­spec­tive of whether some­one is watch­ing or not, as I am ac­count­able to a higher un­seen author­ity.”

Asked whether she had any mes­sage for women who have been strug­gling to suc­ceed or held back by chal­lenges they faced, she said, “Look within you!” “As long as there is a deep de­sire for higher learn­ing in or­der to be a bless­ing/ser­vice to oth­ers, you will per­se­vere to the end in spite of chal­lenges. This will be the driv­ing force in get­ting a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion for your greater pur­pose.“

LAST WORD?

“Thank you for the op­por­tu­nity to share my story. And as I do I pay tribute to the staff and stu­dents who were part of the com­par­a­tively small USP fam­ily in those early years. ““Some have passed on and some are re­tired like me but we have the great sat­is­fac­tion and are proud to have been pi­o­neers in what has now grown to be an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned Pa­cific in­sti­tu­tion.”

High achiever…Mere Sau Tora.

Brew­ing cof­fee at home.

Tora as an Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer vis­it­ing Rishikul Col­lege

Tora pic­tured with her four chil­dren and son-in-law

Pos­ing at her Ragg Av­enue home.

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