Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (June 22) – It is no secret that the families hoping and waiting for the gold mine to be re-opened at Vatukoula desperately need assistance.

Since the closure of the mine last December, their individual and collective economic situation has gone from bad to worse.

[PIR editor’s note: According to PIR archives, the Vatukoula Gold Mine, located in the northern part of Viti Levu island in Fiji, was closed on December 4, 2006 laying off 1,700 workers. Company executives maintain that the closure was necessary, as the mine had been losing millions of dollars in operating expenses since 2006.]

Tales abound of how they struggle to survive from day to day with no regular source of income to rely on to even feed them. The only thing holding them back in the once-densely populated mining community is the hope that the mine will be re-opened soon and they can get their jobs back.

The mine owners and the interim government have yet to sort out the problems preventing the re-opening of the mine. How long that will take no one has properly explained to the mineworkers who can only pray and hope that some positive news is forthcoming - soon.

It has now affected the education of the children living at Vatukoula simply because their parents can no longer afford to send them to school.

What has now become obvious is the increasing rate of absentism both at primary and secondary levels. Parents just do not have the money for bus fares and lunches for their children.

The latest statistics show that an average of 20 percent of students are absent daily from classes. It is disappointing, sad and to an extent unfair especially on the students who are supposed to sit for external examination such as the Fiji Intermediate, Fiji Junior Certificate, School Leaving Certificate and Form Sevens examinations.

Not only the students but also the teachers and parents are worried about the state of affairs on the children's education. While some schools have waived fees, others have encouraged children who can afford to buy or bring their lunches to share them with those less fortunate mates. Teachers have also tried to pitch in with whatever help they can afford but they know that all these are only short-term solutions.

What everyone wants is for the parents to get their jobs back, which can only be possible if the mine is re-opened. The people do not have an answer to that and can only hope that the interim regime and the owners will come to some agreement soon. There is even speculation that the mine may not be re-opened at all because it has been left unattended for six months. But they do not want to even discuss it and are keeping their fingers crossed it won't come to that.

Not only the Vatukoula residents but business houses in nearby Tavua town are also feeling the downturn in economic activity. There's a sombre and gloomy mood all around which they pray won't get worse.

For all of them, so much lot depends on that gold mine re-opening.

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