Growing up in the village, Aliti Kunatoga was forced to believe the perception that girls from her province were not good enough in school.
But the 25-year broke that glass ceiling when she received her Master’s Degree at just 25.
The Sawene villager from the highlands of Navosa successfully completed a Masters in Applied Epidemiology from the Fiji National University this week as well as the Post Graduate Certificate in Health Research.
She graduated alongside her younger brother, Peniame Vutevute, who received a Bachelor of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry.
“My parents have been my greatest source of inspiration,” she said.
“They didn’t have to push me hard to achieve what I have achieved.
“It was only seeing the struggles they had to endure to ensure the best and proper education for us was our motivating factor.
“My mum is a primary school teacher in the highlands of Nadarivatu in Naitasiri and my dad is a farmer in the village.
“They both ensured that we were private students and that they pay each penny of the school fees to get us educated.”
With her mother retiring this year, it would be a great way to show her the rewards of the seeds she had sown for her children.
Ms. Kunatoga works part-time with the World Health Organisation in collaboration with the Pacific Research Centre on Obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases C-pond in Tamavua.
She graduated with her Bachelor in Public Health from the Fiji National University in 2017.
“Growing up in a village community, the perception was that every young girl would not achieve anything good in education and they will only end up getting married at a young age and having children,” she said.
“There’s a lot of stay-at-home teens who are school dropouts in our village and elders in Navosa often joked about girls or young women only graduating from maternity and St Giles for boys because peer pressure is very high in our province.
“I wanted to change and move away from that and I am proud to have been able to do that and prove others wrong.”
She attended Nelson Palmer Memorial Primary School in Navosa prior to attending Navesau Adventist School for her secondary education.
She is the second eldest of four siblings.
“I know what it feels like to have nothing at all and I was not privileged to be provided with what we wanted growing up,” she said.
“But I did not let that deter my spirits. It made me push on to become a better person.
“My brother and I believe with all our hearts that God has helped us through this journey, even though we were far from home while studying, we believed that we are serving a big God that has helped us through.”