The Odyssey of Losalini Cara, a woman of wealthy experience


“I don’t remember my mom and have no memory of her! I was born in a broken family, at a time when my parents were going their separate ways.”

This is the story of a woman who has worked her whole life, struggling to make ends meet and hopes her children will not face the card she was dealt from whence she was a little girl.

Raised in a single-parent household, Losalini Cara knows too well what it’s like to live a somewhat nomadic life, moving from house to house, bunking at relatives’ places and never really knowing what it’s like to have a home.

Born and raised on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu, Losalini grew up in Sawani, located inland between Fiji’s Capital, Suva City and its neighbouring town to the east, boasting the country’s second international airport, Nausori.

“Throughout my childhood and as far back as I can remember, I never really had a home. I was always staying with my aunts; at times, I’d go to my grandmother’s place and other times, I’d stay for a few days with my father and his newfound family.”

“I am the youngest of six siblings from my father’s first marriage, and I have 10 more siblings from my father’s second marriage.”

Life didn’t get any easier for Losalini in the 1970s as she lost her grandma, whom she considered her confidante, the very person she used to share her struggles and challenges with.

After losing her grandma, she moved back with her father and spent most of her pre-and early teen years at a squatter settlement next to a golf course, three miles outside Suva City.

It was at the squatter settlement that she started to yearn for a better life, one that she could be proud of and provide for herself without burdening anyone else. “It was just a thought, and regardless of how badly I wanted to do something about it, I was always faced with the reality of lacking education and the necessary knowledge, tools and skills that fortunate children back in the day had”.

With tears flowing down her cheeks, Lo explained, “When I was 10, I used to watch politicians and public figures back in the day playing golf at the course. I envied them so much, and somehow, I’m reminded that I, a mere Sawani girl, am not even half the person they are. So how could I ever dream to break free from the shackles of poverty”?

“This was also the time I planted the seed of hope deep within my heart to do something with my life and at least try to find a way out.”

Looking disappointed and with tears welling up, she sighed, “Sharing this part of my story is the hardest thing I’ve ever done because I know growing up as an orphan is not easy or ideal”.

During her teenage years, she approached those who often played golf at the course next to where she was staying to be their caddie in exchange for a few cents. This happened to be the first job she knew.

At 16, she became a live-in house helper for one of her father’s friends who lived nearby, cleaned their house and earned $20 a week. “It was big money for me.”

“I stayed with this Fijian of Indian descent and his family most days in a week and would often go home on Saturdays. I grew up with his children, and they treated me like family.”

“The money earned from being a live-in house helper often goes into supporting my family with groceries.”

In 1979, after Cyclone Meli caused widespread destruction in certain parts of Fiji, Losalini’s family and others from the squatter settlement were moved to Wainibuku, a now populated area in Nakasi, between Suva and Nausori.

“In Wainibuku, we stayed next to the cemetery. There were a few houses next to ours, and I often asked if they were looking for someone to hire for any job, like a house helper. I was blessed that I was hired to help three houses with some chores that would earn me some income.”

“It happens that these three households I was helping out were all siblings. I’d go around cleaning one house each day at a rate of $1.50 per day, which carried on for some time.”

She did this for four years to put food on the table and support her family, as her other siblings didn’t work.

This high-spirited Sawani woman dedicated her teenage years to chasing a life she dreamed of but couldn’t quite get there. As the years progressed, she decided to open up her plans and worked various jobs like waiting tables at 19; she spent three years as a laundromat attendant before she finally moved on to work as a helper for the then Amy Apartment in Suva, where she spent five years of her life.

She continued to provide for her family, picking up shifts as a house helper for a well-established couple who worked as doctors at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva while the other owned a private hospital.

She worked at the clinic from 8am to 5pm and later took another shift at the couples’ restaurant from 5pm to 8pm, earning a decent income supporting her family when her employer moved to Cambodia.

“When Dr Govind and Dr Nalini Sharma were preparing to leave for Cambodia, they wanted to take me with them because they wanted someone they trusted to help them at their new home in a different country. I talked to my husband about it, and it was hard to leave my family behind, so I turned down their offer.”

At 20, she got married and later gave birth to her eldest child in 1998, Siteri, before she welcomed her second daughter, Selai, three years later.

Years went by, and the knot of Lo’s marriage started to untie, and in 1997, she was divorced from her husband. Three years after her separation and a child later, she received a call from one of her friends, who was working at

The University of the South Pacific (USP) at the time, about an opening for a cleaner.

“I received the call and was asked to come in on the same day for an interview. So, I asked my relative to look after my daughter because I needed a job to provide for her. I was nervous while sitting outside my to-be employer’s office, Professor Patrick Nand.”

“I was surprised when he greeted me in Fijian, and we did my interview in the i-Taukei language. I took a huge sigh of relief because I don’t know how to speak English, let alone string a sentence together.”

As fate would have it, she booked the job, became Professor Nand’s house helper, and helped raise his children. As hard as it was, Lo had to leave her daughter behind with her relative so she could work to earn money that would eventually help her family and her young child with their needs.

“When I got the job, I was relieved. Before this opportunity came knocking, I worked as a labourer for a ginger farmer to afford my child’s essentials. I often tried to fill up at least three or four bag-full of ginger to earn at least three or four dollars. It was at a rate of a dollar per bag.”

Life started looking up for her as she now earned $30 a day from her new job as a house helper for Professor Nand, where she worked for 10 years.

Just like the certainty of the changing seasons, Professor Nand and his wife, Roselyn, moved to the United States in 2010 to pursue new opportunities. In a letter written by Patrick’s children to the woman who raised them, addressed to Aunty Lo after they moved to America, it read, “Aunty Lo is another person that helps me and my family a lot. She helps me through Mum. She helps Mum by cleaning the house, giving her enough time to do her work at USP. Aunty Lo comes to our house every day during the week from a village in Waibau, Sawani. She leaves home at 6.30am to get to my house, and she is always pleasant and makes me a cup of hot chocolate after school.”

“After Professor Patrick and his family left, I had to go out and look for another job. After looking around, I got a job as a cleaner at a supermarket in Nausori. Things were never the same after working for Professor Nand, and I always yearned to return to work for someone at USP if not the institution itself.”

Words of Losalini’s hard work and commitment spread, and in 2012, she received a phone call from USP for an opportunity to help Mrs Ilaisaane Pongi, the then Executive Officer to the Vice-Chancellor and President of USP.

Known as many who worked at USP then and now as Aunty Lo, she served Mrs Pongi for a few years before she moved overseas in 2015.

Upon Mrs Pongi’s departure, Aunty Lo was again forced to look for another job. Having worked in various roles and several workplaces, she was offered a contract in 2016 by USP’s Campus Life Section as a cleaner.

Despite her challenging background and upbringing, Aunty Lo ensured that her children went through school so they could have a better chance at life than she ever did.

“I didn’t want my children to go through the things I did. I want a different life for them, so I funded their education with the meagre earnings I received from all my years of work.”

Now, at 54, she is putting both her daughters through USP. “Of all my siblings and their children, my daughters are the first from our extended family to reach university.”

Happy that she got her daughters into university, the smile on her face was wiped off when she later learned that her eldest child got pregnant.

“I cried so much; I was angry and didn’t know what to do because I had worked so hard to provide for my children. When I learned that she was pregnant, it was difficult to accept. She stopped going to school and had to stay home, and after she gave birth, she moved in with the father of her child.”

Although deeply disappointed, a mother’s love knows no bounds as she sat her daughter down and encouraged her to continue her studies, regardless of her circumstances.

Having learned that the world is cruel, Aunty Lo illuminated a new path for her daughter, who has returned and is pursuing a Diploma in Early Childhood Education at USP.

Although Losalini Cara did not get a formal education, her 54 years of experience is enough for her to realise the importance of hard work, commitment, perseverance and education to accelerate the progress for women in her community and to carve new paths for better tomorrow.

Soon to be 55, this hard-working woman shows no sign of slowing down and hopes her story will inspire inclusion and, more so, inspire those who are struggling through life.

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