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Sangam’s service: beyond nursing [The Fiji Times, 29 April 2008]


  There are a number of interesting frontiers being broached this week, when the first batch of nurses graduate from the Sangam School of Nursing in Labasa.

TISI Sangam is a private sector largely Hindu organisation which historically has focused on primary and secondary schooling, not tertiary education.

The graduation ceremony will include prayer recitals not just from Hinduism, but also from Christianity and Islam.

Sangam’s Schoolof Nursingis not in  Suvaor Lautoka, but in the deprived North.
And amongst the graduating nurses will be a very large number of Indo-Fijians, quite unthinkable some twenty years ago, especially for Indo-Fijian females.

With the success of this venture, Sangam may well wish to spread their wings further into training for caregivers, and perhaps, investment in retirement homes.

TISI Sangam’s venture

  Although religious organisations such as Montfort have very successfully mounted technical training courses, tertiary education inFiji has historically been dominated by government.  It was therefore quite a bold step for TISI Sangam to venture into nurse training.

This is quite logical given the population trends.  For more than a decade, primary and secondary schools run by Indo-Fijian organisations, have faced declining Indo-Fijian enrolments, because of the high rates of emigration and low birth rates of Indo-Fijians.

At the other end, Indo-Fijian school leavers have often faced ethnic quotas for enrolment at tertiary education institutions run by Government.

Indo-Fijian oraganisations have therefore long been advised to convert excess secondary and primary school facilities into tertiary training institutions which can better prepare school leavers to obtain employment in the labour markets.

TISI Sangam’s venture into nurse training is therefore a commendable initiative, which takes their education training that one step further to facilitate employment for their school leavers.

Behind this initiative would have been much hard work and patient preparation by TISI Sangam managers, without any material reward for their efforts.

It is positive also that Government health officials are giving full recognition to this private sector initiative by TISI Sangam.

A North Development

  For decades,Vanua Levu and the North has suffered from government neglect, despite all the statistics that indicate the high levels of poverty and lack of employment opportunities.

For decades, the majority of school leavers have had to travel to Viti Levu  (with Tutu being an exception), toSuva, Nadi and Lautoka- the metropolitan centres favoured by new developments.  But many parents have simply not been able to afford the high costs of living inSuvaor Lautoka.

For TISI Sangam to set up theirSchoolofNursingin Labasa was an important initiative to spread the benefits of development to the North.

For it is only if there are dozens and dozens of such small initiatives  inVanua Levu, that the North will genuinely be able to share in national economic and social development.

Multi-cultural Sangam

  The programme for the graduation makes for interesting reading, in a country riven by religious bigotry.

TISI Sangam is a cultural organisation of South Indians, mostly Hindus.  The venue for the graduation is the Christian, SDA Community Hall in Labasa.

The Chief Guest (the Interim Minister of Health) will light a Lamp, very much a Hindu tradition. But there will be prayer recitals from Islamic, Christian and Hindu scriptures. And there will be a dedication of the nurses by Reverent Qica, a Christian.

It is encouraging that TISI Sangam, led by their President Mr Dorsami Naidu, is symbolically showing its respect for the country’s major religions. The TISI Sangam’s graduation ceremony sends out a delightful ray of light, a symbolic gesture which teaches us to celebrateFiji’s beautiful multi-cultural tapestry rather instead of sinking into our usual religious bigotry.

Such symbolic gestures could well be emulated by other religious and cultural organisations.

Nursing, Indo-Fijians and emigration

  Historically, nursing has not been a profession favoured by Indo-Fijians, certainly not by Indo-Fijian females.  Not only were there cultural taboos, but the nurses’ salaries were simply far too low to attract school leavers.  These low salaries will no doubt continue into the foreseeable future.

But the last two decades of high emigration of Fiji’s nurses to greener pastures abroad, have also driven home the message to our school leavers, that their potential labour market today extends beyond Fiji- to Australia, NZ, Canada, US and even as far as Britain and Europe.

Fiji’s nurses, with their good professional training and excellent English skills are in extremely high demand internationally, at salaries four or five times higher thanFiji’s pathetic salary levels.

ForFiji’s Indo-Fijian population, who now place a very high premium on any qualification that assists in their international mobility, nursing has now become an attractive profession.

TISI Sangam will not lack for demand for places in theirSchoolofNursingand Sangam should diversify further.

What next, Sangam?

  TISI Sangam, and indeed other religious organisations  might wish to note that there is also a massive international demand for care-givers, whose training has some affinity to nurse training.

Developed countries likeAustralia,NZ,US,CanadaandJapan, and further afield inEurope, are facing rapidly aging populations, with extremely high life expectancies.

Amongst other problems, there face shortages of trained care-givers.  AndFijipeople have for more than a decade been obtaining employment in these developed countries, as care-givers.  The salaries have been extremely high, often much better than that paid to nurses.

With the clients usually being quite affluent, care-givers in private homes have often received perks whose value may be far more than the normal salaries.

It would make sense for TISI Sangam to also begin courses in care-giving, to widen the international employment prospects for our school leavers.

At some stage in the future, there may well be a retirement homes industry inFijiif and when those in authority wake up to the immense potential.

At some stage in the future, when government is able to establish quality private medical facilities especially for the elderly, TISI Sangam might wish to investigate whether it might itself invest in retirement homes, not just for expatriates, butFijicitizens as well.

There are many elderlyFijicitizens whose children have all migrated.  There are also many elderly Fiji people who have emigrated abroad, who wish to spend their last years home in Fiji, in the company and comfort of people with whom they have deep cultural affinity.

This is not just a possibility for TISI Sangam, but other religious and cultural organisations inFiji, which have international links.

All our religious organisations are extremely well-endowed with high quality real estate, much of which lies idle.  Some would be ideal for the establishment of retirement homes.

In particular, Christian organisations inFijimust have an invaluable marketing power in the international parishes of their own denominations, given that the elderly usually place a high premium on trusting the host retirement homes.

TISI Sangam’s praiseworthy foray into nurse training should be just the beginning of a broader private sector involvement in helping school leavers obtain gainful employment, in Fiji and abroad.

Fiji should stop relying for job creation on governments that are here today and gone tomorrow.

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