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Sunday, June 5, 2011

One Year Later: Reflection, Grief, and a Hair Cut

2010 was a very difficult year for me. Despite its difficulty it was nowhere near as difficult as the lives children and families in poverty experience on a daily basis. It cannot compare to the thousands of lives lost in Haiti and Japan, or the lives of individuals living in countries like Sudan or Ethiopia. Nevertheless, it was a challenging year for me that included surviving the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti, mourning the loss of my grandfather, and trying to understand the death of my Fijian friend’s 15-year-old son. This month marks the one-year anniversary of Onisivoro Kamanalagi’s passing as the result of a brain injury caused by falling off the back of a pick-up truck. Today I fly to Fiji for the anniversary, to spend a week with Kama’s friends and family, and to cut my hair after growing it out in memory of Kama for one year.

Immediately after Kama passed my family knew that we had to do something to honor him and to keep his legacy alive. Despite his young age of 15, Kama had touched many lives with his kindness, dedication, and motivation to succeed in life. Every person we talked to recounted stories of Kama’s helpfulness around the house, rigorous study skills, and faith in God. Kama’s village is served by a school that enrolls students in grades 1-8 from Kama’s village as well as two neighboring villages. The students at this school, Narocake Primary School, consistently perform at the highest levels on the 8th grade exam prior to enrolling in secondary school. Unlike the United States, almost all of Fiji’s secondary schools are fee based, a situation that can often be difficult for parents and families from villages whose incomes are usually below the poverty line. In Kama’s honor my family decided to provide educational scholarships for 5 children from Narocake Primary School each year to attend the secondary school of their choice and to pay all school-fees for the 5 years of required secondary education prior to entering university. Each year 5 new students will be selected, eventually resulting in 25 students from Narocake Primary School under the scholarship on a continuous basis. It is our desire that through this scholarship Kama will be remembered for the kind, generous, intelligent young man that he was.

After returning home from Kama’s funeral last year I researched as best I could the process of a father’s grief. What I learned was that the loss of the child is most often the most difficult human loss that exists, and the grieving process is one that is perpetual, whereby the parents cope with the loss of the child, but never forget and always remember. My friend Niu, Kama’s father, is still experiencing excruciating pain in his life no doubt. I hope that somehow, my returning to the village to cut my hair after growing it for a year in memory of Kama and the annual scholarship fund will reveal to Niu that my family also has not and will not forget Kama. We stand by Niu’s side during this tragedy, as friends, as family, to honor his son, Onisivoro Kamanalagi.

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