Brisbane couple Tony and Kristyn Bashford are on volunteer assignments, working with the Ministry for Education to support the delivery of high-quality education to every Fijian student living with disability.
Growing up, Afrana did not have access to mainstream education. At the age of 16 Afrana enrolled in Lautoka Special School, but thought full-time employment would be out of her reach.
Life has changed significantly for Afrana after she was taken on as a trainee in mid-2016 at the Radisson Blu resort on Denarau Island, Fiji. This change is due in part to a collaboration between the five star Radisson Blu resort and Australian husband and wife volunteer team, Tony and Kristyn Bashford.
The Brisbane couple are volunteering in Fiji’s special schools as part of a long-term partnership between the Ministry of Education and the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program. Kristyn and Tony are both Special Education Officers who have been volunteers with the program for more than two years.
Over a four-year period, 23 Australian volunteers have been placed with the Ministry for Education to support the delivery of high-quality education to every Fijian student living with disability. Special education teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists have volunteered alongside their counterparts in Fiji to make a tangible difference to how people with disability learn and participate in the community. This is being realised through the enhancement of Fiji’s special education staff capacity to implement Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities and Individual Transition Plans (ITPs) for life beyond school.
Individual Education Plans have been introduced for all students across all of Fiji’s 17 special schools. The plans support teachers to set customised learning goals for each student during their schooling.
Australian volunteers Tony and Kristyn have carried on this work by creating Individual Transition Plans that help students nearing the end of their studies to prepare to enter the workforce. This approach has been a life-changing development for students Afrana and Shamane, who, after undertaking traineeships as part of their transition plans, both gained employment at the Radisson Blu resort. Joining Fiji’s workforce for the first time means both young women have gained independence and are now able to make valuable financial contributions to their families’ incomes.
Julien Racine is the Hotel Manager at Radisson Blu and has been a driving force behind the hotel’s partnership with Tony, Kristyn and the special schools.
“Radisson is big on responsible business and we aim to do whatever it takes to improve children’s education,” Julien says. “We know we are making a difference that helps many children who deserve it. We also know that we’re supporting the schools where our employees are sending their kids, so it is a little bit like looking after our employees too.”
Both girls are excelling in their positions as part of the housekeeping team. Afrana recently won the ‘Employee of the Month’ award and in August was promoted to a self-checker, meaning she will not only receive a pay rise but will now work supervisor-free – a great achievement for someone who has only been working at the resort for a year.
“We can see some leadership in Afrana and we hope to grow her further to one day make her a supervisor,” Julien says.
After the success of Afrana and Shamane’s traineeships and subsequent employment, Julien is hoping to create a certification process for future students undertaking traineeships and is looking to engage other hotels in Fiji.
While the collaboration is only young, there are hopes on both sides of the project that it will continue to grow and opportunities for students with special needs in Fiji will increase.
“We want to see it become sustainable in the three pilot schools and a start made to take it out as a package to the rest of the special schools in Fiji,” Tony says. “This project has a great future with students, parents, teachers, employers, schools and for disability awareness. It shows that industry can make a profit and still have a heart.”You can hear more about this initiative here: Video: Special Education Volunteering in Fiji