Bula vinaka and a good morning to you all.

It is a pleasure to be here with you all today at the opening of new buildings facilities at the Duavata Secondary School. Being with you all in Labasa has so far been the highlight of my tour of the Northern region — because as I’ve said before, traveling throughout Fiji and spending time with the young people of our country is the best part of my job as Prime Minister.

I say that over and over because I always see so much hope and promise in the faces of our children. They are the future of Fiji, and it is inspiring to be among them and share in their spirit of optimism for what we, together as the Fijian people, can achieve.

My tour of the North was very nearly postponed due to the tropical cyclone and depression we experienced this past week. Luckily, Fiji was spared from widespread damage, but there are many repairs that need to be made and people who require assistance. And my Government is ready to provide full assistance to all Fijians who have been affected.

This is a reminder that we need to remain prepared for these types of tropical storms, even when outside the traditional season. I was pleased that we made the necessary preparations quickly and were responsive to the advice and instructions of our emergency response authorities. And I wish to thank those agencies–DISMAC, the MET office and law enforcement agencies—for their working around the clock to make sure that all Fijians are safe.

Today I will be traveling to two other schools, the Vunivutu Primary School and the Valebasoga Secondary School to open new classroom blocks and provide students with new equipment. I’ll also be in Ravuka village commissioning a new water purification project. So we have a busy day ahead of us in Vanua Levu, spreading the benefits of our growing economy to our deserving Fijian family here in the North.

I believe it is our responsibility to leave behind a Fiji that is better than the one we received from past generations. It is the duty of our generation to lay out a path that leads to an even brighter future for Fiji and the new additions to the Duavata Secondary School are an essential part of forging that path for these children.

I’m sure all the parents here can agree with me, that there is no better use of our resources than providing our children with better education and making sure education is available to everyone. Because by improving the educational experiences of our children, we make them more competitive and more qualified to find meaningful employment and help build an even better Fiji down the road.

It takes a lot to create the right mix for a proper education, you need committed teachers, up-to-date materials, and modern facilities. However, none of these mean a thing if students can’t make it to the classroom.

In regions such as Duavata, there are unique challenges that can limit our children’s access to our schools and rob them of the tremendous advantages education can provide. Our students’ energy and attention should be devoted to their studies, not on how they’ll be able to get to school. No student should be set back because of where they call home in Fiji — that is unacceptable — and my Government remains committed to giving every Fijian child equal access to education and an equal shot at life.

When my government started the free education program for all students in Fiji, it was because we wanted to create a country where family’s finances did not dictate their children’s futures. We envisioned a Fiji where one’s circumstances were not barriers to educational achievement, and these upgrades to the Duavata School are a continuation of that vision.

In a little over a decade, the Duavata Secondary School has become an established institution with an impressive academic record. Today, thanks to numerous infrastructure improvements, your school is barely recognisable from its humble beginnings in 2004. The school roll now stands at 87 students and 15 teachers, and these new buildings and equipment will help your school extend the reach and the quality of its education.

In 2015, Duavata received a new boat with a 40 horse power engine that is now used to allow both teachers and students to get to school more safely and efficiently. Two new teacher’s quarters were constructed and two new dormitories, including washrooms for both genders, beds and other boarding facility equipment. The school also received a grant from the Ministry of Education that helped establish the new dining hall. All in all, these projects amounted to around $200,000 – a worthy investment in a school that has consistently delivered for its teachers and students.

By improving and upgrading the boarding facilities, we’ve given more students the chance to live comfortably on campus instead of traveling great distances to get to school. These upgrades and purchase have not only made that journey easier and safer they also make the Duavata School a home away from home for more children than ever before.

To the students: I urge you all to make the most of these improvements. We will be with you every step of the way, but it is up to you to apply yourselves in the classroom. You are the future of our society — one day you’ll become our politicians, scientists, teachers and business leaders. Here at the Duavata Secondary School is where you can prepare yourselves for that enormous responsibility. I’m confident that when you work hard, you will fully meet that challenge.

But building a better future for Fiji means more than succeeding in the classroom. It also means creating a society that we call be proud to call our own. Currently, Fiji suffers from a societal ill that is driving us apart and I would like to take some time to address that issue — the plight of domestic violence.

The students here today will not always be children. One day they will grow up, get married and start families of their own. It is up to us as a society to make sure that when that day comes, our women and children do not feel threatened by domestic violence and sexual assault. Our children at the Duavata School, and all throughout Fiji, deserve to live lives that aren’t endangered by violence in their homes and they should not have their potential limited by having to fend for their own safety instead of focusing on their schoolwork.

The only way to keep our women and children safe is to take this issue head on. When we ignore this issue and leave it in the dark, domestic violence continues to exist in our homes and in our communities and that holds us back as a country.

When we allow the perpetrators to show their face in society after committing such atrocities, we allow evil to exist without repercussion. That is not who we are as a people, and that needs to be reflected in our attitudes towards those who abuse and mistreat our women and children.

I have high hopes for all of our students at the Duavata School and I know you are capable of meeting them. Thank you for being here with me today to open these new buildings, and a new chapter for the Duavata Secondary School.

Thank you. Vinaka Vakalevu