This week we hear from one of our Alumni of the 2019 Leadership Fiji Program, Serupepeli Vularika, who was one of the first responders and front liners at Lautoka Hospital when COVID-19 hit our shores last year.

For Seru, as he is fondly known, he was a shy and timid boy with little courage to speak up in his early childhood days. His parents started their family as young 20 year old’s and he spent most of his life growing up in Lautoka, has four other siblings and he is the second eldest. Seru’s dad was as a casual seasonal worker at the Fiji Sugar Corporation in Lautoka and his mum ran her own home-based business selling her crochets and baking. He will always cherish his parent’s upbringing as they instilled in their children the values of respect, love, to listen and most of all to be humble.

Seru attended four primary schools and did his secondary education at Ba Provincial Secondary School in Lautoka. One benefit of moving from school to school was that it established in Seru a characteristic of being able to adjust and adapt to changing situations. That was one lesson he learnt early in life and holds close to him, that change is inevitable and to remain calm through change, and that change is good as we get to learn and understand how to mauver through life situations.  Those lessons also made Seru promise himself that he will be a much better person and will always strive for a brighter future.  Another life lesson he learnt during his youth bible classes was to not allow greed to cloud his goal in life, no matter what decision and choices he made, he learnt to celebrate in the moment and always cheer himself on because no one else knows him better than himself, and for that one deserves to celebrate.

Seru did Foundation Science at the University of the South Pacific in 2005 but had to go back home and look for a job to help his parents. He landed a job as a temporary relieving clerical officer at the Lautoka Hospital’s Human Resources Department. It was there that Seru was asked to apply for the Nursing Program.  He however was not excited about it as he wanted to do the MBBS Program, but the applications had closed. Seru eventually got into Nursing School in 2007 and managed to complete his 3 years of nursing study. He did his nursing internship in 2010 at the Lautoka Hospital and his first community posting was in the interior of Navosa at the Wauosi Nursing Station, where he served for two and half years. Seru’s community nursing experience tested his independence and critical thinking, using good sound judgements and always seeking advice when he felt situations getting intense and difficult to handle. His experience as a community health nurse was not only clinical but it had encompassed a lot of areas that embodied the community as a whole, from mental, financial, social, physical setting, environmental and even spiritual approaches which taught Seru great lessons on how to think broadly and always keep an open mind when attending to patients and the community needs and issues.

Later on in his nursing career, Seru was selected to be one of the nurses in the medical teams for the peacekeeping tour to Syria, Middle East and the Medical Relief Tour for Cyclone Pam to Vanuatu. These two roles gave Seru the opportunity to rethink his career, taught him to be determined and to complete a task when the situation is tough no matter how big or small it is, to do it like your life depends on it, never to complain and appreciate those little things because they count. Upon returning from Vanuatu in 2015, with all those international relations experiences, Seru decided to pursue studies in Law.  He had the urge and drive to pursue further education and commenced his Bachelor of Law in 2016 and is now pursuing his Master’s in International Relations and Diplomacy.

Seru found out about Leadership Fiji through LinkedIn as one of his connections happened to be a Leadership Fiji Alumni. He researched Leadership Fiji and realized the difference this Program would provide him, so he applied. For Seru, he was pleasantly surprised when he was selected for an interview and making it through to the final intake was an honour.

From then Seru knew that Leadership Fiji was meant for him. He shared that it was like going to the stream, carrying his strainer in the hope that he will find gold while scooping the earth from the bottom of the stream. As the Leadership Fiji 2019 program rolled with session after session, they were tasked with activities; the aspect of teamwork and the notion to ‘agree to disagree’ was a challenge but finding common ground and best solutions in situations and accepting the differences was interesting as they built trust, not to judge one another but to seek to identify the issue and build a stronger suited solution as a way forward, and to let go of individual egos.  Seru fondly recalls the memories of Leadership Fiji 2019, where they did everything together and even shared critics with each other for the good to improve and better themselves.  He understood the three T’s in leadership, which is TRUTH, TRUST and TRANSPARENCY, only then will one be able to transition in any area of life.  In some of their sessions, they were given thought provoking readings, and for Seru there were three readings that impacted him as he had to dissect and interpret, reflecting it to his personal life situation. He loved the part where everyone had reflected a part of their life in terms of leadership and how they beautifully manoeuvred themselves out of that situation.

One African Proverb that resonates with Seru is: “If you want to get there fast, do it alone, if you want to make it far, work together.” Teamwork with open and honest communication propelled the Leadership Fiji Class of 2019 and this is what Seru incorporates in his professional and personal life to this day. One thing that also stood out is team dynamics and using each other’s strengths to work together on a shared common goal, creating a group vision and sticking to that as it will always be the foundation of success for any team. As an individual, having the courage to accept critics and the ability to listen to others, whilst paying attention to detail and allowing others to grow is important. For Seru, his 2019 Leadership Fiji experience will always be a positive and lasting memory.

The learning and experiences Seru gained from Leadership Fiji, his early childhood years and serving internationally were the foundations that held the management of the Lautoka Hospital together during the challenging times of COVID19.  They saw the panic and chaos amongst the public and even within the hospital staff themselves.  It was then that Seru understood the importance of proper planning and always having back up plans. Seru had worked with great minds and amazing leaders like Dr. Taito Rigamoto, Matron Milika Narogo, Matron Setaita Bulai, Dr. Simione Voceduadua and Dr. Mara Vukivukiseru, who were the first few people who had been planning for the preparation of a COVID19 outbreak, months before it hit our shores in March 2020. The time they spent dedicated to planning and strategizing, accepting everyone’s views and finding safe common approaches that would protect and safeguard everyone, from the Hospital staff who will be in direct contact with the patients to the relatives coming to visit the admitted patients in the various wards.  He also acknowledges the public health, divisional command centre and board of control staff teams for their nonstop tireless efforts and dedication throughout those challenging times. The aspects of trust, telling the truth and being transparent were the key components that held and built the momentum in teamwork. With all these it instilled in Seru the courage and confidence to actively participate in the COVID19 operations and to also update himself on the progress of COVID19 globally and infection prevention and control measures. The team collaborated with other institutions and organizations to drive the COVID19 operation by containing the spread by creating a clearly defined objective, in maintaining precautionary measures and restrictions; and providing continuous training to health staff and other institution staff.

Seru is now in a new role in the Marshall Islands based at Majuro Hospital working as a COVID19 Nurse Supervisor, where their COVID19 operations is quite different, and has had to adjust and learn as much as he can since arriving there in November 2020.  He manages the clinical aspect of the COVID19 Ward with 15 COVID19 Nurses and also assists in the public quarantine facility. The Marshall Islands was one of the first countries to close its borders in March 2020 and have not had any community transmission of COVID19, although they have recorded 4 cases in quarantine.  The amazing thing for Seru is that he is still learning how they apply different strategies to suit their country. Everyone has different approaches and capabilities, especially when working in a different environment, and for that matter in another country.

There are days when Seru is at his lowest but weighing out the positives over the negative does help him. He keeps a reflective thinking notebook, and would separate the personal from the professional, and every now and then he goes through his notes again, autodidactic to those areas he had identified earlier and move on from there.  Seru plans to gain more exposure in the field of nursing and medicine from diverse institutions, understand the areas of operations and management, and further his career specialty in policy making, governance, consultancy and academia. He feels that nursing is still an area that needs to be explored more in the Pacific, as very few studies and research are made to understand the impact of nursing and leadership within the Pacific context.  He has drawn up a personal vision for himself in the next 15 years and intends to have his own law firm providing consultations, and in due time provide consultancy and engage in policy making, locally and internationally.

Seru’s advice to those ambitious young minds out there, and to those who have dreamt of making something out their goals, there is still time, opportunities are out there, where there is a will there is a way. Never dim your light, be the captain of your ship and take control of it.  If Seru has come this far to prove himself worthy of the course, so can you!

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