A first for his family: Tragedy births hope for a brighter future


In the outskirts of Lautoka, a suburb on the western side of Viti Levu, Fiji, Rohinil Kumar grew up raising livestock, assisting his parents with backyard gardening, and often helping with their family business of selling fresh vegetable produce, among other assorted goods, at the town market every weekend.

What started as a chore later became an opportunity for Rohinil to earn some pocket money when he began his educational journey at Drasa Primary School, a mere three kilometres from his home.

“I continued to help out at home, and every weekend my mom and dad had to go to the market, I’d go with them. I did this throughout my primary school journey.”

“Where I came from, and at the time of my growing up, people were content with what they had and didn’t think much about anything else except putting food on the table and having a roof to sleep under.”

His humble upbringing and hard work at home and school got him into Drasa Secondary, a journey he described as tumultuous, filled with highs and lows.

“I didn’t think much about getting into high school. It was just another thing I had to complete because that was what my older siblings and students in my neighbourhood did.”

Throughout his high school journey, Rohinil juggled his schoolwork, family business, and maintaining a social life without any regard for what he wanted to do with his life after secondary school.

“I was happy with how I performed in high school, and I remember travelling to Rakiraki, a two-hour drive from Lautoka, every Saturday morning to buy vegetables and other produce so my parents and I could sell them at the market on Sundays.”

Life was bliss for the Kumar family; unbeknownst to them, tragedy was going to strike (in 2014) while Rohinil was in Year 12.

In May of 2014, Rohinil received the news of his father’s passing, a moment he remembered to have been the turning point in his life.

“It was hard to accept the news because I realised with my father gone, my mom would have to shoulder all the responsibilities alone.”

“Knowing the struggle my mom would have to endure, I started to think of what I could do to help out. The only thing I could think of was completing Year 13 and taking over the family business to share my mom’s burden.”

“After successfully passing my Year 12 and 13 external examinations, my closest friend encouraged me to further my studies at university. I was reluctant at first, but he insisted I submit an application at The University of the South Pacific (USP), which I did towards the end of 2015.”

As the youngest of four siblings, Rohinil got accepted into USP to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Information Systems. He is the first in his family ever to pursue studies at the university level.

“Being the first from my family to go to USP or any university comes with much pressure. Students from my neighbourhood hardly ever consider attending university for further studies.”

“My academic journey at USP started in 2016, and I was blessed to learn of the various services available to students. The services offered by USP helped me greatly throughout my four years at the Laucala Campus.”

“The thought of helping my mom by securing a decent job fueled my determination to complete my studies at the region’s premier institute.”

After completing his undergraduate studies in 2019, Rohinil graduated with his Bachelor’s Degree in 2020 and decided to take his study aspiration further and pursue a post-graduate diploma in climate change.

“When I enrolled in the post-graduate programme, my lecturer, who acknowledged my performance during my undergraduate studies, approached me and asked if I wanted to do part-time tutoring for his Geography units.”

“From then on (2020), I signed my contract as a part-time tutor at USP while pursuing my post-graduate diploma.”

“What I loved about post-grad studies at USP while being a part-time tutor is the university’s flexible learning options. As a post-graduate and working student, USP offers some units online or blended, allowing us to do our work and prioritise our studies.”

“Many people often think about completing their studies within the period of programme completion. However, most don’t realise that studying at USP is, in itself, a journey of self-development, and at times, your study timeline would differ from that of your colleagues and friends.”

“I did one post-graduate unit per semester starting in 2020, and it took me two years to complete my programme instead of the one year for full-time students.”

During his two-year post-graduate studies, Rohinil met students of varying age groups returning to pursue further studies or upgrade their qualifications in the field of climate change.

“This was another highlight for me. Most of the students I studied with are now working in various Ministries in Fiji, and being with them in a classroom setting allows us to share our experiences and learn from each other.”

After completing his post-graduate studies at USP, Rohinil became a teaching assistant at the USP School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS).

“Learning never stops! Joining USP in 2016 is a choice I never regretted because it has brought me this far. I never really imagined myself doing what I’m doing today.”

“After my father’s passing, I thought of leaving school after Year 13 to help mom at the market. I never imagined myself in a teaching space, let alone completing my bachelor’s and postgraduate studies.”

Despite his accomplishments and education from USP, the 26-year-old keeps himself grounded by revisiting his early beginnings of selling vegetable produce at the Lautoka market.

Rohinil’s mom, 58, lives alone in Lautoka and is still carrying on their family business that has been running for over 26 years.

“I’d return home every semester break and long public holidays to spend time with my mom and help her at the market. The reason I do this is because it is where everything started from. If not for that humble beginning, I wouldn’t be here doing what I do today,” Rohinil explained.

“I would like to encourage students to pursue their dreams and upgrade their qualifications to continue to make a difference and move up the ranks in their workplaces. USP offers various upskilling programs and has flexible learning options for those juggling work and parenthood, amongst other responsibilities.”

Rohinil is now working on his intent paper as he hopes to pursue his master’s degree in the near future.

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