If you want to succeed in life, you have to believe in yourself says Sumasafu Vilisoni who has been an amputee for the past 41 years.
The 56-year old man from Oinafa was born and bred in Rotuma. He had his right leg amputated when he was 15 years old after falling off a coconut tree.
He is now the vice-president, finance, for the Fiji Paralympic Committee but has had a string of willful experiences in his life from winning a gold medal at an international games meet for the disabled and working for more than three decades at the Post and Telegraph department at the time.
Growing up in Rotuma was exciting and fun. The youngest in a family of eight siblings, Sumasafu wanted to be a teacher when he was younger.
Life in Oinafa was like any other village on the island. Farming and enjoying the plentiful natural resources on the island was an everyday norm.
“We had a couple of school teachers staying in the village with us and that was what I wanted to become when I was younger,” he said.
“I was 15-years old when my right leg was amputated. This was late in the afternoon and the doctor had gone out fishing.
“When I went to the hospital, they called the doctor. I didn’t go to school that day and tetanus injection was given to students at school that day.
“The doctor thought I had gone to school and got the injection so he didn’t give me an injection.”
The injury in his right knee became infected and spread above his knee. For a teenager still into adolescent life, Sumasafu said the idea of losing his leg was a shock.
He thought about how other people would react to him. He said life was hard for him at first from having an active life playing rugby with friends to walking with one leg and crutches.
“I didn’t see any other amputee in the village to share and talk about what’s going to happen after that,” he said.
“People expressed their sympathy and I thought I was going to be dependent on my mum, dad and other people around me.
“But that didn’t help me in life. My uncle was a church minister and from the time my leg was amputated, I didn’t go to school.
“So my uncle asked me what I wanted to do. I told him to ask the principal to tell the students not to stare at me when I went back to school.”
With constant encouragement from an American peace corp at Malhaha High in Rotuma, family and friends, Sumasafu was able to live life independently.
Adjusting to his new life, Sumasafu completed secondary school at Malhaha High and Ratu Sukuna Memorial in Nabua, Suva.
A passionate sports follower, Sumasafu would sneak to rugby games played by the school despite his disability.
“The teachers in Suva treated me like any other student. I really appreciated that and I found it encouraging,” he said.
“I would walk from school to Raiwaqa just to show people that I could do what they were doing.
“From RSMS, I found a job as an accounts clerk at the Grand Pacific Hotel. The experience was challenging.
“I was torn between two cultures, from life on the island to the working environment. My parents were going back to Rotuma and I wanted to go see them off but my boss didn’t allow that.”
He went anyway to see his parents off because he didn’t know when he would see them again. He got his marching orders the next day.
Sumasafu was able to find another job as a telegraphic officer at the Post and Telegraph Department.
He spent 33 years at the department retiring as the manager for supplies and purchasing.
In between work life, Sumasafu had a sideline passion – advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.
“The key in life is to keep pushing for greatness. If you want to move forward, it has to start from you.
“You have to have the confidence to keep pushing on with life despite your disability.”
He is married with three children.