Mesu helps change lives

Mesu helps change lives

GERALDINE PANAPASA
Monday, February 11, 2008

Mesulame Usainaramarama with his certificates

Mesulame Usainaramarama with his certificates

Life as a street-kid is never easy especially when one has no other choice but to take on that kind of life.

There are some who live on the streets thinking they will never be able to change the course destiny has mapped out for them.

But change is possible, one who was able to steer away from the downhill route his life was taking is Mesulame Usainaramarama who started living on the streets when he was only 12 years old.

Born in 1975, Mesulame is the second eldest of five children from Totoya Island. He lived in the village with his family and describes the life then as "easy and good".

He said back in the village, they did not have to worry about their next meal because they had an abundance of natural food sources in their village.

Life in the village was a breeze and one of Mesulame’s happiest memories.

He said back then he was always looking forward to the Christmas season.

"I remember life in the village was an easy one. It was good. We didn’t have to worry about food; we just took it from nature."

Then destiny dealt the family a cruel hand and they were forced to relocate to Suva because Mesu’s younger sister was diagnosed with a heart problem that could not be treated on the island. "I attended Navesi Primary School up until Class Six when I came to Suva. I was 12 years old," Mesu remembered.

"We moved to Suva and stayed with a relative in Delainavesi, Lami. My sister’s heart problems were really worrisome and my father had to look for odd jobs just to support us in Suva.

"He found a job but it didn’t pay well. There wasn’t enough money to pay for school fees because we had to use it on my sister."

Financial constraints, forced Mesu to drop-out of school and the young was lad was told to look for a job to help the family.

Even though he was too young to work, Mesu eventually found odd jobs that didn’t pay well. Being the youngest in his work place, Mesu was constantly the target of workplace abuse like being growled and yelled at.

He said his dream was to continue his education but money was always a problem because every cent was used to try and help his sister recover.

His sister eventually passed away.

"I felt sorry for my parents. They were always at the hospital with my little sister. I had no choice but to live on the streets," he said.

"There weren’t many kids on the streets then and those that were there were much older than me.

"Some spent one month in jail or in the village and then returned to street life.

"I used to do really bad things like steal clothes at night time but I never got caught. I was trying to survive and I really had no choice.

"In the day time, I would go with other street kids and take food from shops. I slept under the bridge at Walu Bay.

"I built a little shelter out of cartons and I used to stock up my food supplies. At that time, I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong. I just knew that I had to survive and I had to eat.

"I had no money or anything like that. One thing I dislike doing is asking people for money. I don’t like to go around with my hand out and asking for money.

"Sometimes, when I did get money, I would take it to my mother at the hospital and she would throw it back at me.

"She told me she didn’t want the money I gave because she knew it wasn’t mine and I didn’t earn it."

He said he lived on the streets for almost 23 years from 1987 to 2000. In 2000, the Qarase-led Government came up with an initiative to take street kids away from the life they were living.

Mesu said the Government wanted to change their lives and the Ministry of Youth and Sports instigated a "positive mental attitude".

He said there were more than 150 street kids, both girls and boys involved in the initiative program held for six weeks at Nasau Youth Training Centre.

After taking part in the program, Mesu said most of the kids reverted to their old lives and there really was no effect.

"I was the only one who changed. I went to the Ministry and asked them to help me continue my studies. I wanted to go to the Fiji Institute of Technology but they told me I couldn’t because I only reached up to Class Six. I cried. I told them I wanted to change my life and help others like me. "So, I was then told to get a handbook from FIT and when I did I started praying. I knew that whatever page I turned to, I would take the course or program.

"I flipped open the book and it was Trade Certificate in Graphic Designs.

"From 2000 to 2004 I was given the chance to change my life. I worked hard and in 2004 I graduated with my Trade Certificate in Graphic Designs.

"In June 2004, I helped Andrew Hughes and the Ministry of Tourism to educate and street kids new skills in screen printing.

"I was one of those who taught them how to screen print and layout design.

"I wanted to help them get out of the street life and learn skills they could use to find employment.

"I knew how hard street life was and I’ve done a lot of bad things I am not proud of but I had no choice.

"I just came back from spending two years on Laucala Island in Taveuni and I was shocked to see so many young street kids.

"I just want to help out again like I did in 2004. If I can do that, I can make a difference in someone else’s life," said Mr Usainaramarama who believes his parents were never the reason he took on the street life.

Homes for street people

Homes for street people

VERENAISI RAICOLA
Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rescue Missions Jekope Serukalou, standing right, and Samisoni Lalavave are pictured with some of the street dwellers who come to their mission in Suva

Rescue Missions Jekope Serukalou, standing right, and Samisoni Lalavave are pictured with some of the street dwellers who come to their mission in Suva

The term street kids’ describes children and adults who live or work on the streets.

In Fiji some street kids are based at home, some live in groups, some sleep on benches, in parks, abandoned buildings or church verandahs.

Most times these kids or adults could be exploited because of their vulnerability.

Some people could also gain from the street people’s situation by posing to help them or be "Good Samaritans".

That is why there is a need for the Government to check out the backgrounds of people who set up homes for the street kids as in the past some have been known to have their own agendas according to social workers.

Fiji Council of Social Welfare executive director Hassan Khan said proper counsellors are needed to work with street people and the Social Welfare Ministry should ensure that.

He said the council was aware of some cases of exploitation and a few were known to the department like self-styled saviours setting up fundraising web sites to solicit money as well as posting photos of victims’.

He said those who wanted to establish missions for street people should promote the strengthening and development of families as a proactive solution.

Mr Khan said already there were several mostly religious organisations and some were making a difference.

"Such actions take time; besides there is no regular funding from any source for any civil society organisation to do constructive and productive work in this area," he said.

Mr Khan said the increase in the number of street children indicated the failure of Fiji’s education and economic systems and the lack of social planning in developing a safety net for them.

Another looming issue was the care and protection of older street persons.

Psychotherapist Selina Kuruleca, who echoed similar sentiments, said there was an urgent need to monitor those that operated homes for street kids.

She said professional counselling was needed for the street people.

Ms Kuruleca said there were no regulations in place so the area of such work was kind of "free for all".

"It is a worrying trend and would be addressed in the new Family Law Act that requires that those providing counselling need a licence," she said.

Ms Kuruleca said TPAF was drafting some regulations to ensure some framework was in place for those that opened up such initiatives.

Training and Productivity senior quality framework officer Selai Qereqeretabua, who like Ms Kuruleca believes that a framework would help control such homes, says they were working on a policy to ultimately cover every organisation.

"This qualification framework would ensure quality training for street kids is provided by those that claim to offer training," she said.

Ms Qereqeretabua said the policy would ensure that quality service was delivered especially in situations where someone turned up overnight and set up a home to eventually ensure street people were trained to obtain qualifications.

Former Social Welfare CEO Emele Duituturaga said some people could simply take advantage of street people.

She said even though some people had "bleeding hearts" to do good, the fact was that someone needed to scrutinise programs offered by such homes to make sure the street people benefitted.

"Vetting is needed because some could use the name of family or church yet abuse children sexually or emotionally," she said.

From her experience the only sustainable solution for street people was to link them back to their family.

She said the ultimate solution in Fiji was to network children or adults back to their families and communities.

Ms Duituturaga said from her experience children were pushed out of their homes because of poverty and often welcomed any roof over their heads.

"Kids at the end of the day need to be placed in school, have a job and mend their relationships," she said.

She said instead of setting up new initiatives people could link up with the existing services.

"The problem is that there is no law that says you cannot set up a home but there is a law that protects children," she said.

Ms Duituturaga said social workers needed to be accountable to authorities.

She said the Chevalier Hostel was a good example of an unsustainable home and the Ministry of Social Welfare stopped giving it funds because there was a problem regulating accountability.

"It is a pity because vulnerable people could just be exploited," said Ms Duituturaga.

Last month Jekope Serukalou of Rescue Mission Community Association came out public about assisting street kids and adults.

He and his wife leased a property at 29 Gorrie Street for the next five years for $1000 a month to cater for these people and hope to eventually own the property as well as renovate it to include a gym and other facilities.

Jekope who felt it was a divine calling said the only cash they had was from his wife’s salary, sponsors, donors, friends and family overseas.

He said different groups pitched in with food items and their daily budget was $100 a day on food alone.

The organisation provides for 30 to 50 people from 10 to 50 years with breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a sleep over facility in the run down five bedroom timber home in Suva.

There are three school students and five staff who live permanently at the house.

There is also a single mother and her 10-year-old son.

Jekope does not ask children about their parents because they are a rescue mission which offered the street people hope regardless of who they were contrary to what professionals in Fiji believe was the way to handle the situation.

"It takes time to build a relationship and to understand the children," he said.

"Some have been rejected and others have been pushed aside by their family or community so we receive people just as they are."

Jekope who is not a qualified counsellor had pastoral training from the Assemblies of God Bible School and claims to have experience with a mission association in the United States of America where he lived for nine years.

"Basically I know this ministry inside out, serving homeless people and was inspired to do this after seeing a great need for it in Fiji," he said.

"Street kids, shoe shine as well as wheelbarrow boys are mushrooming all over Suva."

He said this need was overlooked by the government and different churches despite the increasing number of denominations that professed to do the work of God.

Jekope put together a spiritual program called discipleship that he follows through with his new found flock.

On Tuesday and Wednesdays there are guitar and piano classes.

The idea, he said, was to teach the kids some skills and eventually get them off the streets.

Jekope hopes funding from AusAid, the EU and the Ministry of Social Welfare would eventually allow him to pay his staff and buy items like a wa
shing machine, clothes dryer, fridge, deep freezer, computers, projector, photocopier, laser printers, ovens, fans, typewriters, towels and toiletries.

They would also use the funds to buy and renovate the home.

He preferred to keep their church affiliation a secret not to discourage any group or denomination from pitching in.

"We want to keep our affiliation a secret because we are not serving only a particular group of people," he said.

"It is an open door policy for everyone.

"Once we say who we come under it would deter other denominations from helping.

"Parents are not involved because our objective is to develop the kids only and them being on the street shows they are unwanted from their homes."

Former boxer returns to help street kids

Former boxer returns to help street kids

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Newtown HART settlement residents with the members of the Rescue Mission Canada on Thursday night. Former boxer Isimeli Lesi is second from left at the back.+ Enlarge this image

Newtown HART settlement residents with the members of the Rescue Mission Canada on Thursday night. Former boxer Isimeli Lesi is second from left at the back.

EVEN though some people migrate, they seldom forget their home country and this is true for former boxer Isimeli Lesi.

Now living and working in Canada, Lesi returned with a purpose — to win as many souls for Christ.

He arrived in Fiji this week and was happy to find another group — the Taxi Mission Fellowship was engaged in the mission he had envisioned and was working to save the souls of street kids.

He said during his glory days as a boxer, he was often praised for his achievements but when he lost the glory and started living in the streets, hardly anyone helped him or offered him help for a solution for his hardships.

Lesi said he would often be sitting on the streets when people would go to church but no one helped him and that’s something he wanted to do for the young people living on the streets of Suva.

The president of the Taxi Mission Fellowship, Saula Mosi, said they started their mission last year and it was not only to help street kids but also help taxi drivers by bringing them together for a worthy cause.

He said every Sunday, drivers involved in the mission would go out and pick street kids up for fellowship and breakfast.

When they started the Sunday fellowship and breakfast, Mr Mosi said, there were about 20 kids but now they had more than 60 and one of the most important changes was the attitude of the street kids because they became milder and started opening up and sharing their stories. Lesi said apart from street kids, they also visited families living in HART (Housing And Relief Trust) settlements and they would hold a three-day gospel concert at the Suva Civic Centre on September 6-8 where street kids would be guests.

He said the concert would feature local gospel artists and groups such as Sekope Raikoro, Dokidoki Gospel and Eagles Wings. Admission will be free.

He said the aim of the mission was to touch the lives of street kids, drug addicts and former prisoners as well as inmates. Lesi is planning to taking some of the boys to play club rugby in Canada. His brother is involved in that and he will return with two boys after this trip.

Couple cares for street kids

Couple cares for street kids

AQELA LALAKATO
Monday, May 28, 2007

PEOPLE living on the streets are a common sight in the capital.

To daily commuters, they are a hassle, worse, an eyesore and easy prey to petty crimes.

But if you stop for a minute for a chat, they are longing for love and a direction in life.

That is what Alifereti and Vasiti Ritova find fulfilling in their work with street kids in the capital.

The couple lead the care ministry of the Assemblies of God church at Calvary Temple in Samabula and have been doing it for the past five years.

The ministry provides breakfast every morning to 30 children and adults living on the streets.

The youngest is four years old and oldest 65.

They have their meal behind the Suva Olympic pool if the weather is fine.

If it rains, they find shelter at provided tables near the seawall.

"The ministry has been going for the past five years. We provide breakfast to all people living in the street," Mr Ritova said.

Finding breakfast is not a hassle because a bakery in Samabula provides a dozen long loaves and butter every day for free.

The couple pays extra for the necessities if there are more mouths to feed.

Alifereti says this happens mostly on Sundays when the church forks out extra to make sure everyone has something to eat.

For Sunday, Vasiti is up very early because there is not only breakfast to think about but lunch as well.

While she is cooking, she makes sure the dish is enough for 60 people.

"Sometimes we see new faces we did not see in the week and they come on Sunday," Vasiti said.

While many anticipate Sunday lunch as the only time for a family get-together after a long and hectic week, Alifereti and Vasiti are surrounded by beaming faces who are fortunate to have something to munch on for the day.

A former street kid, Alifereti indentifies with them and is glad to be helping them.

"I grew up with my family in Toorak but most of the time I was on the streets. My father was working and our house was always full of relatives coming from the village.

"We lived in a small apartment and there was no privacy, so for me, hanging out with children on the streets was the only way I could make a living.

"In the day we would do odd jobs such as shining shoes or selling coconut baskets for money.

"At night we would sleep under a culvert or a house as long as we found somewhere to lie down."

At 17, Alifereti found himself a job in Nadi but the street was still home. "When I found a job I was still a street kid," he said.

"It amazes me sometimes to be working among other people who were also living on the street."

Though living on a meagre income and a limited education, Alifereti dreamt of a decent life.

He finds himself fortunate to have travelled to other countries while working on a container ship for nine years.

At 59, married with a 25-year-old daughter, he finds his calling in the ministry a divine one.

"People living on the streets have so much to tell, if only someone cares to listen.

"The children are mostly from broken families and poor backgrounds.

"Sometimes there are children come from families where they live with their parents but prefer to hang out with their friends on the street."

Alifereti hopes to see the street kids they are providing meals for make a better life for themselves.

In the past five years, he has received positive testimonies.

"Some have returned to their families and some have found work.

"But when we meet in town, we greet each other with tears in our eyes because we share a lot of bad and good memories on the streets," he said.

Street kids secure jobs

Street kids secure jobs

Thursday, May 24, 2007

THE Ministry of Social Welfare has secured 25 jobs for street kids in a span of three days, it said yesterday.

Interim minister Adi Laufitu Malani said the ministry identified 40 street kids following her visit to homeless people living on the streets of Suva last Friday night.

She said the homeless were surprised by her visit and her initiative to get firsthand information on their problems.

Accompanied by members of the police force for a four hour walkabout, Adi Laufitu said her staff helped list the names of those she met.

They were promised help from the ministry in the days ahead.

"While the people living on the streets have their own unique story on why fate has dealt them an unfair hand, most of them claim they have been abandoned by their families," Adi Laufitu said.

"They wished their circumstances were better and they didn’t like what they had become, but they had no choice," she said.

In one case, a disabled woman said her family forced her onto the streets after an accident because they found it too difficult to look after her.

She has been convicted of petty crimes like shoplifting and pick pocketing but given another chance at life, she would take it.

"I have invited the beggars, the street kids and all those living on the streets to come and share a cup of tea with me tomorrow (today), so together we can work out strategies to improve their lives," Adi Laufitu said.

The 25 street kids will be employed by the police, the military and the navy.

She said 10 street kids would join the police force’s maintenance unit, while another 10 would be vetted by the military and another five would join the navy.

Police monitor kids on the street

Police monitor kids on the street

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kasiano Sakurau of Navutu has his shoes polished by Balau Vesikula as George Fatiaki looks on at Lautoka+ Enlarge this image

Kasiano Sakurau of Navutu has his shoes polished by Balau Vesikula as George Fatiaki looks on at Lautoka

POLICE are working with the Lautoka City Council to ensure that street kids are rehabilitated and kept out of trouble.

West police chief Emori Laqai said his officers in Lautoka were co-operating with the local municipality to ensure that street kids do not break the law but are also stopped from using city facilities for shelter.

Senior Superintendent Laqai said while other stakeholders were looking at the rehabilitation of the kids, it was the duty of the police to see that law and order was not compromised.

SSP Laqai said a committee at the Lautoka Police Station, headed by the officer-in-charge Rusiate Saini, was looking into the issue.

He said the main priority was for the boys not to break the law.

Council chief executive Pusp Raj said their main concern, apart from the damage the boys had done to their facilities, was to ensure that they returned to their village as refined persons.

Mr Raj said they were looking at agencies which could train shoeshine boys and sword sellers for jobs.

He said they were also working with church groups.

"We want to put them back in the community as refined persons,"he said.

He said the work would not happen overnight.

Mr Raj said they were able to remove, with police help, 15 street kids who had been living at Churchill Park for several months.

He said most of the street kids were from nearby villages and some had come from Suva.

Last week, Mayor Rohit Kumar said the boys were moved from the grandstand which they had been using as a shelter.

City monitors street dealers

City monitors street dealers

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A TASKFORCE has been formed to keep street kids, shoeshine boys and swordsellers in line while they do business on the streets of Lautoka.

The force is made up of members of these street groups, along with the Lautoka City Council, the police force and the army.

Lautoka town clerk Pusp Raj said the taskforce was formed to ensure the boys were doing the right thing.

The move comes after a meeting last month between the council, and the city’s shoeshine boys and swordsellers on how the council could help the groups do business. Mr Raj said on many occasions the council had received complaints about the behaviour and loitering of the street kids, shoeshine boys and sword sellers.

Mr Raj said before the stakeholders meeting the council would receive regular complaints from members of the public regarding the street kids sleeping at Churchill Park or drinking in the area.

He said the council had invested about $130,000 into Churchill Park.

"Churchill Park is a public place and we need to keep the place clean at all times," he said

"It’s not a good sight to see young boys sleeping in the park or doing their washing or drinking spirit mixed with water."

Nadi wants street kids out

Nadi wants street kids out

Monday, February 19, 2007

Laite Rakanace carries her four-year-old son Jone Varawa from Pacific Theological College kindergarten school to their home in Veiuto yesterday in the heavy rain

The Nadi Town council wants all street boys off the streets because it does not support touting.

Nadi Mayor Salesh Mudliar said while touting laws were being explored by Cabinet, the town council did not have any interest in supporting such a system.

As such, it does not intend to issue identification cards to street dwellers like the Suva municipality.

He said the town council would not have any control of the street boys who hassle tourist that shop in the town.

"We cannot give street boys these so-called ID cards because for one there are too many of them and secondly anyone could apply for one," he said.

"We want them off our streets.

"Anyone coming in to Nadi to shop should be given space to move freely and not be harassed or hassled by these street boys.

"Shoppers coming into Nadi don’t need street kids to be harassing them while they shop.

Many tourist that come into Nadi come from larger countries than Fiji."

Mr Mudliar was reacting to queries raised on the issue by concerned ratepayers.

Suva’s street kids have been on the streets operating as shoeshine boys, wheelbarrow operators and some simply ask for money.