How the Seru Rabeni legacy is helping transform a remote village in Fiji

Fijian’s determination to help his community through education lives on through partner Susan Macdonald

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 3:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 April, 2017, 3:20pm

A brute of a man who took all before him on the rugby field, there was a soft side to Seru Rabeni, who simply wanted to help those less fortunate.

When Rabeni passed away suddenly from heart failure last March, he was in the process of raising funds to build a kindergarten in the Fijian village he grew up in.

Rabeni, who is survived by his partner Susan Macdonald and their three-year-old daughter Ayami, touched many during a playing career that included two World Cup appearances and a victory at the 1999 Hong Kong Sevens.

He had plans to help youngsters out of poverty through rugby, but was also a big believer that education was the key for young people in his village of Nasolo.

Rabeni’s determination to help his community lives on through Macdonald, who is working with the Discovery Bay Pirates to ensure Rabeni’s dream becomes a reality.

“He improved his life through rugby but he didn’t feel that rugby was really going to benefit his community. He felt the only way that could be changed was through education,” said Macdonald, a DB resident.

“Education is the only way many of them are going to have any way of improving their futures.

“Seru had started raising funds for his village in 2008 when he was a player in England and he had upgraded the village hall and sports ground and also helped some of the kids with their school fees and needs.”

The Seru Rabeni Foundation is up and running, with the likes of the Fiji Rugby Union, HK Scottish and Rabeni’s old club, Leicester Tigers, throwing their support behind the initiative.

The fund’s first objective is to give the children of Nasolo a permanent kindergarten, with corporate support and fundraising help making this possible.

Plans are in place to ship a prefabricated structure and a container full of school supplies to Fiji.

Macdonald is hopeful that, with the help of the Fijian Ministry of Education, the facility will be up and running by July, if not June.

“The village is really quite remote and it is very much on what you would call the poverty line,” Macdonald said.

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“For Seru, when he was growing up, one of the reasons he wanted a kindergarten was because the closest one is over an hour on foot.

“So what the village did is they used the village hall, where they gave them a corner for the kindergarten, but if there were any village events on then all the kindergarten classes were cancelled.”

The Discovery Bay Pirates – where Rabeni coached and played – are helping with the administrative side of the fund.

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On top of that, a number of past and present Pirates players and families are hoping to travel to Fiji to help with the construction of the kindergarten.

There are 37 four- and five-year-olds utilising the makeshift space, while Macdonald has a long-term view of also setting up a programme that will sponsor students and teachers.

“At the moment the Ministry of Education can only afford to give the teachers a small donation every month,” she said.

“In terms of school supplies and school books, there is no funding for that in Fiji so if we are able to set that up as a second step I think that will help the school evolve and continue in the long term.”

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Rabeni’s friend and former Fiji teammate, Deacon Manu, who was recently appointed director of rugby at the Pirates, is spearheading efforts to bring budding young players to Hong Kong.

“He has set up the Rugby Academy Asia and he is going to introduce the Flying Fijians programme, which will be a collaboration between the academy and the Seru Rabeni Fund,” Macdonald said.

“The programme will bring young Fijians and their families up to Hong Kong and give them rugby opportunities, as well as help with education as a way of improving their futures.”

There are schools in Discovery Bay open to the idea of offering scholarships and the Pirates, potentially in partnership with the Hong Kong Rugby Union, are hoping to offer employment opportunities.

“If they are school age the plan is that they live and go to school in DB and play for the Pirates and we will try to get them in the national age grade programme,” said ex-Pirates chairman Steve Kean, who is heavily involved in the fund.

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“If we keep them for long enough, maybe get them into Premiership rugby and into contention for Hong Kong.

“If they are a bit older, they leapfrog the school bit and maybe work for the union and be placed with the Pirates as assistant coaching officers to Deacon.

“It all fits with what Seru wanted to do which was help his young compatriots out of poverty.”