Over 90 students from various high schools around Lautoka attended the Girmit Day celebration organised by The University of the South Pacific (USP) Lautoka Campus and had a glimpse of the USP experience as they participated in debates and various other activities organised by the University.
As part of the day-long celebration last Wednesday (May 3, 2023), eight schools from the urban and rural centre of the Sugar City took part in a debate battle to assess students’ knowledge of the Girmit history.
USP Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr Giulio Masasso Tu’ikolongahau Paunga, in his address to students, emphasised that it is vital for all Pacific Islands students to be adequately versed in the history of their countries.
“The sacrifice and struggle of the Girmitiyas in shaping Fiji is an integral part of this country’s history which should never be forgotten. This piece of history has to be continuously preserved generation after generation to inspire students of different ages.”
Dr Paunga added, “It is very important for each of us here in Fiji to know about yourselves, your country, your resources, politics, economics, everything that you can think of about your country.”
Participating in debate competitions positively impacts students’ intellectual growth, communication abilities, critical thinking skills, and confidence, preparing them for success in various academic, professional, and personal endeavours.
It also allows students to articulate their thoughts clearly, speak confidently, structure their arguments effectively, develop the ability to listen actively and engage in respectful discourse.
Competitions such as that organised by USP Lautoka Campus expose students to diverse perspectives and encourage them to consider alternative viewpoints, a crucial part of university studies and an ideal platform to prepare themselves for tertiary education soon.
Dr Paunga also highlighted that USP is made up of 12 member countries; hence, to shape the future of the Pacific, it is vital for students to know the history of their own country before they learn that of their neighbouring island nations.
Officiating as chief guest at the long-day celebration, Assistant Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Sashi Kiran, stressed that people from the I-Taukei and Indo-Fijian communities must mend their tainted relationship of the last several years.
“The barrier created between the two groups from the days of Girmit has to be broken, and this year’s Girmit Day celebration has to be the pathway. We must be mindful that many of the indentured labourers from India could not return to their homeland, and the struggle to get proper recognition in a new country began in the Girmit days.”
She also highlighted that this year’s Girmit Day celebration could be pivotal for reconciliation.
The celebration at the USP Lautoka Campus also saw Girmit-related performances with a few special Girmit items on exhibit.
At the end of the celebration and various competitions, Pandit Vishnu Deo Memorial College was awarded first place, Natabua High School settled for second place and Central College, Lautoka finished third.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor commended all the high school students, including the USP Lautoka students who participated in poetry, poster, role plays, dances, and quiz for their exceptional research and presentation.
Recognising the hard work of those that have helped develop Fiji and the Pacific and realising their significant role in the progress of any developing nation is a crucial part of any country’s history.