She walked humbly all her life

Selai Tavoa

“My life’s foundation was in Fiji, my life’s expression was in Vanuatu.”

Those were the words of Selai Tavoa, a proud Fijian woman whose legacy in Vanuatu was her altruistic service in serving to the people’s need through her nursing skills.

Selai passed away on 30 July 2018 – the 38th Anniversary of the Independence of her beloved adoptive country.

On hearing of her passing, former MP and long-time Deputy Prime Minister in the Lini-lead Government from 1980-1991, Ps Sethy Regenvanu referred to Selai as “one of the Mothers of Vanuatu’s Independence”.

Selai Tavoa’s arrival to Vanuatu was due to her husband’s work in New Hebrides in the early 1964. 

Wedded to Daniel Henry Tavoa, a doctor from North Pentecost. Selai believed she was the first foreign women and Fijian to marry an indigenous New Hebridean. The impact aroused great curiosity between Dr Tavoa’s family.

They met at the Fiji School of Medicine (FSM) in Fiji. The couple were married at the Anglican Church at Tagabe, Port Vila. Dr Tavoa was posted at Malarua Dispensary, North Efate after they were married. 

In January 1980, Selai started working as Nursing Sister in the VCH Maternity Ward. A year later, the need for an English-speaking Nursing Tutor at the Vanuatu Nursing School led Selai to apply. She applied and was successful, she began work as a Nursing Tutor until her retirement in 1996.

1982 was a turning point for Vanuatu Nursing. The Government decided to amalgamate the former British and French health services to form the Vanuatu Centre for Nurse Education.

One of its outcomes was the earmarking of Selai and other nurses, to become the first Ni-Vanuatu Nursing Tutors. They were enrolled to do an External Study Nursing Tutor Course in the College of Advance Education in the University of New England, Armidale, Sydney in Australia.

They graduated in January 1984 with a Post Graduate Diploma in Nurse education. Selai said they were a great team who knew their unique roles in playing their part together to develop nursing in the new republic of Vanuatu.

Selai represented Vanuatu at a primary Health Care Workshop in New Ireland, PNG and the Midwifery Course in Suva, Fiji in 1986.

In 1994, Selai led the Vanuatu Delegation to the South Pacific Nurses Forum in Apia, Samoa. The following year she represented Vanuatu in her las travel as a nurse at the Breastfeeding Conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Selai was also selected as the acting Principal Nursing Tutor, all the nursing students of the VCNE between 1980 and 1996 were students of Mrs Selai Tavoa and her Team of Tutors.

She was retired in 1996 after serving about 21 years as a Nurse and later, Nursing Tutor.

Selai befriended a certain young man during their stay in North Pentecost, who only introduced himself to her as, “I am Walter, your brother.” 

This Walter would later become Fr Walter Hayde Lini, Vanuatu's first Prime Minister.

During the years leading to Independence and especially when the young Walter and other National Party leaders were being hounded by the anti-Independence groups throughout Vila, the young Tavoa’s house often hosted their secret meetings and Selai’s cooking provided for them.   

When asked how come she wasn’t awarded any medals by the Head of State for her selfless service to Vanuatu, she humbly replied, “the two medals awarded to Daniel in 1982 and 1990, belongs to the both of us. That is more than enough”.

In 1993 Selai was widowed. In all, Selai had spent 54 years of her life in Vanuatu.

Selai is survived by her 4 children, 8 grand-children and 3 great-grandchildren.

A few years before her passing, Selai had begun writing her story but sadly, could not complete it in time. Her children are compiling her manuscripts to fulfil her last wish in likelihood that the book will be released soon.

She will always be remembered as a woman who paved her way through life by sacrificing her service for others. Selai was one of the most influential people, the ones who leave behind incredible legacies, which will live on in the hearts of the people they touch. Physically, she is no longer part of the society, but her principles, philosophies and achievements will become immortal, spreading from generation to generation.

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