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Meet Ateca Dicakau
This International Volunteer Day, we are celebrating our volunteers. Let’s meet Ateca Dicakau.
Bula I’m Ateca. I am from Yaroi, Savusavu with maternal links to Nukuni, Ono I Lau. I am married to a gentleman from Vivili, Savusavu and I have 2 beautiful boys.
I joined the Junior Red Cross when I was 12. I was in class 7 at St Andrews Primary School. I was a curious little girl and that curiosity is what led me to the Red Cross. We used to have Quiz’s between schools and one time the quiz questions were around the Red Cross. So, after the quiz on Saturday, I went to the office in town and asked a few questions. I then signed up as a volunteer. I was the youngest in Savusavu at that time. It was exciting. We would do Basic First Aid training in school and have quiz competitions. Every Saturday I would visit the branch. When I reached form 7 I was nominated for a volunteer recognition award at an event that was held in Labasa. This was around the time Alison Cupit was Director General. One of the highlights of my joining the Junior Red Cross was when I accompanied a few volunteers including volunteers from Australia to speak on the 7 Fundamental Principles & HIV awareness in Urata village in Savusavu. It was my first experience of public speaking. It was new and I learnt so much.
I then left Savusavu and went to board at St John’s College, Cawaci in Levuka. I would only return home for the holidays. I would have catch ups with some of my friends but didn’t really get involved with the branch around this time. In 2009 I returned from Cawaci and came back and rejoined the branch.
In 2010 Tropical Cyclone Thomas hit Fiji and Savusavu was badly affected. It was a category 5 storm. This was the first time for me to see and use a satellite phone. With network down and with most services down, we were able to communicate using this satellite phone. Stock was flown across to us and we were able to assist Rabi island, which hadn’t established a branch yet and the whole of Cakaudrove.
I really saw how our visitations really moved people. This experience pushed me to continue with Red Cross work. I saw how devoting your time and effort truly helps people. Around this time, a Together we can project was established to address HIV and Aids. We would visit different communities and try to break through the taboo of discussing topics around sexual activity. Some of the villages we visited had not ever heard of a condom or practicing safe sex. I remember one challenging experience I had around this program, but it really made me stronger. I accompanied a colleague to go to Wailevu, Tunuloa to hold an awareness session on HIV and Aids. We boarded the bus at 5am and just after an hour, it broke down and we had to walk from Natewa village to the main road to try to hitch another ride. Carrying our box of condoms, box of pamphlets and other materials, we began this long walk. Luckily there were plantations along the way, so we picked pawpaw and sugarcane and constantly encouraged each other to keep going.
In 2012, I was chosen to represent Fiji in the first ever Pacific Youth Forum. I accompanied my colleague Sevuloni, who is now with the IFRC. I had the opportunity to meet other Youth from different National Societies and was able to share experiences and learn from each other. One of the challenges highlighted around that time was that volunteers were going for trainings and didn’t take it back to implement in their branches. So we discussed how we could help improve this and to further engage Youth. By 2013, I joined South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) as a Micro-Finance officer and continued to volunteer. By 2016 after becoming the Branch President, I resigned from SPBD as I found it quite challenging and felt it best for me to dedicate my time and efforts to my work as Branch President. I led the response for category 5 Cyclone Winston. This was a different experience for me. I explained to one of our partners from overseas, when I responded in 2010 to Cyclone Thomas that I had not been affected badly and was helping those that were. In 2016, with Winston, it was a different story. I lost my home to the flood. We packed what we could and moved in with my dad. After ensuring my family was safe, I then went to help where I could. I was lucky enough that I still had shelter, most people didn’t.
In 2017, I applied for a position with the Fiji Red Cross Society Recovery team based in the North. I became the Psychosocial support officer implementing the Health and Emergency program in communities. We would do one hour clean ups in communities and discuss issues. Most of the areas that I would visit around this time was Bua, Taveuni and Savusavu which were badly hit during TC Winston.
I then decided that I wanted to spend more time with my family and decided to go back to being a volunteer. I felt this was the best decision as I could give my best to the branch, communities we served and my family.
I am very friendly and people who often meet me for the first time, say they feel like they’ve known me for ages. I get that a lot from people I visit in communities. They tell me that even if it’s a conversation, they feel heard and it sometimes help relieve their stress and worry.
When I am out in the field, I meet a lot of people especially those who are affected and what helps me cope with any stress is planting. I love planting. On my plantation, I have grog, Tavioka, Dalo, Kumala, Pawpaw and Baigan. My whole family plants and this helps support us.
My favorite colour is black, I feel it symbolises my intelligence and power and I love eating chicken.
I continue to work on balancing my life as a volunteer with my family. My whole family is very involved in volunteering also. I believe it’s important my children understand the power in giving your time and effort to those who need it most, at a very young age. I am very thankful for the exposure through workshops and trainings I have attended through the Red Cross. It has helped me understand more about the humanitarian space and helps me share my experience on how we are working towards developing the branch.
Volunteering is something I love and my family has come to accept that it will always have a place in my heart. So they have joined me on this journey.