A group of community leaders, professionals and philanthropists recently returned from Fiji, after distributing almost $121,000 as scholarship money to more than 2300 poor students.
This was the tenth year in succession that the ‘International Congress of Fiji Inc (ICFI)’, earlier known as the ‘International Congress of Fiji Indians’ mobilised financial resources for a worthy cause.
So far, the organisation has mobilised more than $760,000 to assist students to pay for their tuition fees, uniforms and books and stationery.
Although he never mentions, the ‘Scholarship Programme’ was initiated by Auckland based community leader Ahemad Bhamji in 2002, who was at the time President of ICFI.
He has brought together like-minded people from various parts of the world, to not only serve as office-bearers of the organisation but also participate in the granting of scholarships to needy children in Fiji.
The Visiting Team
He was among an eight-member team that visited Fiji recently to award the scholarship process. Among them were Vimal Madhvan, Editor, Western Mail in Wales, UK (and former Sub-Editor of Fiji Times), Rajen Prakash, Dr Krishna Prasad, Dr Mrs Vijay Krishna, Surome Singh, Kamal Tahal (Brisbane) and Govind Sami (Sydney). They met all expenses including travel and accommodation from their own personal accounts. In addition, members of the team made personal monetary contributions for the programme.
The current office-bearers of ICFI are Dr Krishna Prasad (President) Rajen Prakash, (Secretary), Surom Singh (Treasurer)- all based in Brisbane where the Secretariat has been established, Dr Karam Singh (Sydney) and Dr Uma Dutt (Adelaide), both Vice-Presidents.
One of the most significant aspects of the Scholarship programme is its robust process of selection, with accountability, transparency and sense of purpose as the finest attributes.
The amount granted has been steadily rising since the scheme began ten years ago. From the first grant of $922 awarded to 13 students in 2002, the amount and volume have been rising year after year. Last year, 1813 students received a total of $99,106, while the number of students was 2324 with the total amount given reaching $120,965.
Mr Bhamji said the scholarships enable economically backward but deserving students to prosecute their education in primary and high schools, and the Fiji Institute of Technology (FIT), now known as the National University of Fiji.
“The objective is to assist as many students as possible graduate from FIT and USP to become self-employed or proceed with higher qualifications and job experience. A large number of students are capable of achieving technical and other qualifications but paucity of finance proscribes them from doing so. The ICFI aims to identify such students and grant scholarship so that their progress is not restrained by financial considerations,” he told Indian Newslink.
As well as funding educational programmes, the ICFI has also been active in community welfare projects.
Apart from political coups, our people in Fiji are constant victims of floods.
“The coups have had their adverse effect on the Indian community in Fiji and the ICFI was keen to ensure not only the safety and security of the community but also lift the lot of the downtrodden. However, with Fiji returning to democracy, and more importantly, the proposed constitutional and electoral reforms assuring equal rights to all Fijians irrespective of their ethnicity, our focus will be on education and development of Fiji and its people,” Mr Bhamji said.
According to an UNICEF Report released last year, education is an important determinant of poverty.
“The poverty rates in Fiji are higher for households where the head of the household does not have secondary education at around 50% as against 35% overall poverty rate.
“Fiji has a well-educated population and as such only 18% of the population lives in households where the household head has less than secondary education,” the Report said.
According to the Report, poverty is still high (40%) among the most populous group of secondary education.
“Poverty is significantly lower for households with heads who have attained post-secondary education (10%),” the Report said.
“ICFI is the only global body representing the Fijian Diaspora worldwide. Membership is free and we invite people to join and make a difference,” Mr Bhamji said.
The team of officials from the International Congress of Fijians Inc at Lambasa College, Fiji last month (from left) Ahemad Bhamji, Vimal Madhvan, Rajen Prakash, Naicker, Principal of Labasa College and Govind Sami.