Eremasi Vesikalou wasn’t a person to let anything slow him down, be it the arduous rural surroundings he was raised in or the eyes that couldn’t guide him on his life’s journey.
Rather than have self-pity for what was dealt with him, the man from Rukuruku Village on Ovalau made the best of what he had. Stricken with a condition that slowly led to him fully losing his eyesight, he overcame overwhelming odds to become the successful farmer that he is today.
Though he had envisioned himself as an engineer while a student at Delana Junior Secondary School back in 1976, this was not to be, as, at the age of 15, his eyesight began deteriorating and could not be healed through either conventional or herbal medicine.
He recalls having to return to his village after learning of his fate; “It started with a slight headache which continued to become severe and soon after my sight was affected leaving me totally blind, I was devastated, I had to return to the village and because of my condition, I knew I couldn’t do much.
“My condition left me helpless, I depended on people and was often the center of mockery, all this led to my urgency to start something for myself and I knew that I had to turn to the land and just farm,” he said.
Despite his shortcomings, the now 57-year-old Lomaiviti man has made a life for himself through farming and is an active farmer, living life the same way an able-bodied person would; Vesikalou made use of his mataqali’s land and with the assistance of his cousins, he ventured into yaqona farming.
A few years down the line, as a young man, Eremasi immersed himself in his yaqona farming and through its harvest, became one of the only youths at the time to build his own home.
Even in his condition, Eremasi has been farming for more than 20 years now, expanding from yaqona to dalo farming and has become accustomed and attuned to his situation and physical surroundings that he is able to travel to his farm and work alone.
“I use my stick and walk my way slowly to this place. It is my farm, so I know it, I don't require much assistance to get here anymore."
“I'm able to manage my way because I've created a mental image of the location of my farm, aided by small pegs I've used as markings," he says with a smile.
His sense of touch became his sight as he is able to differentiate and distinguish weeds from yaqona and dalo plants, “It’s something I've been doing for years. So I use my hand to feel the plants, once I touch it and it's not a crop, I know the feeling, so I remove it."
His slim frame tells the tale of a man who has been through a lot but his attitude and character reflect that the father of three is far from over as he does not show any signs of slowing down or giving up.
His life has come full circle as he is supported by his wife who hails from Driti Village in Dawasamu and their three children, something everyone thought Vesikalou would never have – a family of his own.
“I gathered the courage to seek my wife’s hand in marriage and I found happiness, despite my condition, she accepted my heartfelt request with sincerity,” he said.
“The birth of our children was the best thing that has happened to me and although I haven’t seen the faces of my wife and children, the love that we share was sufficient for me to put an identity to their voices.”
He has continuously defied the odds and tirelessly works to provide for his family from farming; “From the farm revenue, I managed to build a house for my family in the village with a portion used for my children's tuition and other needs,” he said.
“At first I went through challenges in the search for my eldest’s tuition and with my condition, I still went knocking on doors, I faced disappointment and fortunately other doors opened enabling my son to continue his education, with the assistance of good-hearted friends,” he said.
“It was probably because of my condition that I was turned away but that feeling of rejection gave me strength and confidence to keep moving and it all went away after my son successfully enlisted in the army. A proud moment for both father and son.
He has managed to put all his children through their education and has molded them into strong-willed individuals just like him, a reflection of which can be said to be his unorthodox farmhouse which surprisingly enough is not a small corrugated iron house nor is it a tent but is a huge rock, one that he makes himself comfortable underneath whenever he decides to take a breather.
Through the Ministry of Agriculture’s outreach in 2017, he became a member of the cluster group in Rukuruku where the burden of shouldering his farm works alone was shared.
Agriculture Assistant Ovalau Losana Nakato said the group was assisted through the Dalo and Yaqona Development Programs and received 2,200 dalo tausala suckers and 2,600 yaqona planting materials in 2017.
As a vessel of change, Eremasi encourages people with special needs or in a similar situation to not look down on themselves; “If something is wrong with a part of you, don’t be disheartened as you still can accomplish a lot of things, you are still useful and can achieve far better than abled people could if you believe in yourself.