For two years Peni Kauivalenibula lived on the streets of Suva.
He had no home and no future.
He was a casual labourer at a small joinery.
But, the money was not enough to sustain him. He has relatives where he could board. But he discovered that they had their own challenges and he was an extra burden to them.
He used to drift between the streets and the home of relatives in Suva.
But for the last two years he has been permanently living on the streets.
One morning in January, he got up and decided that he would turn a new leaf in his life.
He realised that if he wanted to get off the streets into a decent home, he had to work hard for it.
He had experienced being a casual labourer. That did not work. He decided that the only way was to return to school and gain a good qualification.
Now enrolled at the Fiji National University to do a diploma in quantity surveying he said last night he wanted to be a builder and work in a big company with better pay to help him get a decent home.
Mr Kauivalenibula, 43, and single, is originally from Vanuabalavu, Lau. He was educated up to Year 12. At 19 years old, he came to Suva looking for work and landed a casual labourer’s work in a number of joineries.
He is still living on the streets, but is studying under the light of a yaqona stall in Centerpoint, in Nasinu outside Suva.
He is a recipient of the Tertiary Education Loans Scheme (TELS).
As he told his story, Mr Kauivalenibula was in tears. He was grateful for TELS for giving him a lifeline – another chance to succeed in life.
“I used to work as a casual joiner and carpenter in different small companies,” he said.
“I had a very tough life trying to live alone and think if I will eat today,” he said.
His parents died many years ago and his five siblings live their own lives.
He has learned that if he wants to survive he has to become independent and self reliant.
“My friends and people who knew me used to give me their old clothes and sometimes buy food for me which I used to eat half and save to eat later.
“There were days when I just had to drink water throughout the day because I did not have money to buy the food.
“I am blessed that I am a full-time student now where I get to meet new people and educate myself to become a better person in life.
“I am tired of struggling although the struggles have made me stronger. It is a phase of my life that I will not forget.
“I am grateful for the boys at the yaqona stall who have helped me a lot providing me with the basic necessities and talking to me to ease my stress,” Mr Kauivalenibula said.
He encouraged others who had given up their education because of financial difficulties to apply for TELS and pursue their dream career.
“The workforce has many experienced people, but it does not have a lot of qualified ones,” Mr Kauivalenibula said.
“I want to be one of the qualified ones to proudly say ‘yes I am a graduate with a diploma’.
“And the first thing I will do after I find a suitable job is to find a place to live where I can have my showers every day, cook a meal and enjoy it.
“I know my life will bring me more struggles in the future, but I want to have the power and strength to overcome and move on in life,” Mr Kauivalenibula said.