The birth of Jasper Williams school

The entrance to Jasper Williams Primary School in Lautoka. Picture: SITERI SAUVAKACOLO/FILE

IN the early 1920s, Fijian girls of Indian descent who were mostly descendants of Fiji’s indentured labourers did not have an opportunity to gain an education.

While education during those early days may have been centred on males, it was just ideal for the early Wesleyan missionaries to establish a school that would provide a fair share of education to girls of Indian descendant at the time.

This was also a time when most descendants of indentured labourers ventured out into many areas in Fiji and established farms for a living.

Hence was the birth of one of Lautoka’s prominent schools, the Jasper Williams Primary School and its hostel.

On this date 90 years ago, the Jasper school was established through the commitment and sacrifices of the missionaries to provide education to the growing Indian community.

Old girls, current students and loved ones of one of the oldest educational institutions in the Sugar City have since then vouched for a celebration to honour the life of the school that has moulded them to become stronger and resilient Fijians.

School chairman the Rev Anil Reuben said the school had a rich history in itself because while it deviated from its core reason it was opened, it went ahead to provide primary education to thousands of children in the greater Lautoka area.

He said the missionaries bought the land and decided to name it after Jasper Williams — a gentleman who ran a pub on the hill where the Jasper hostel sits today.

“The Indian synod at the time found that they should establish a school for Indian girls and hostel accommodation,” Mr Reuben said.

“When the school started, girls from Rakiraki, Valley Rd and other farming areas in the West sent their daughters here.

“I’m glad that the school is 90 years this year and it continues to thrive and serves its purpose.”

Mr Reuben said Jasper was a household name among all Indian Methodists who had daughters and had their daughters go through the school system.

However, 30 years later when the school was well-established, the management found it hard to send girls who have completed their primary education to Natabua and other neighbouring schools.

This was how Jasper Williams High School begun its academic operations in 1957.

“This will be a celebration for the old scholars, their family members and every Fijian who went through the Jasper system,” Mr Reuben said.

“It is also recognition of all the girls who went to Jasper that are now serving different careers in the country and abroad. This is our day; it is about honouring the school that moulded us to be who we are today.

“We look forward to coming together and celebrating the school’s 90th birthday.”

For the past nine decades, the Jasper community has served the Fijian people with pride.

Salaseini Lele, a former student of the school, said most of the girls who went through the Jasper system were moulded to become women of faith and set good examples to others.

“Anyone who went to Jasper would remember this — a Bible and a hymn book are two of our most important weapons and our most favourite time were Monday morning school assemblies where we would sing our hearts out to Methodist hymns,” Mrs Lele said.

“Jasper was different from many other schools because we learnt gardening, scrubbing, cooking and saving money right from a very young age.

“Some of our old girls even went on to become successful in their own career paths and in the Fijian sporting arena.”

Mrs Lele is the assistant headteacher of the school and after a span of many years in Fiji’s education system, she has returned to give back to the school that allowed her to become an independent Fijian woman.

She shared that many girls who went through Jasper were taught to always have a voice and speak out when needed to.

“We uphold Christian values and today, most of us still remember their most famous school hymn — We build our school
on Thee o Lord.”

Some Fijian women who have established themselves in the Fijian career system and had been products of Jasper Williams Primary include renowned lawyer Barbara Malimali, Adi Makelesi and Adi Frances Tavaiqia, Lusiana Rauqeuqe, Ariela Zibiah, Silipa Tagicaki and the Drasuna sisters who played key roles in the development of netball in the country.

This Saturday, November 16, old girls locally and abroad will converge with their loved ones at the Churchill Park carnival
ground in Lautoka for the school’s 90th birthday celebration.

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