Fiji loses a true son

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Mere Roden, left, and Joshko Wakaniyasi. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU
Mere Rodan, left, and Joshco Wakaniyasi. Picture: FT FILE

An inspirational leader, a passionate advocate for the special needs community and an individual who pushed boundaries and shattered glass ceilings for persons with disabilities are just some of the many words used to describe the late Joshco Wakaniyasi.

Joshco, as he was commonly known, was the executive director of the Spinal Injury Association of Fiji and was very active in the wider disability sector.

He was on the steering committee of the United Nations Volunteers program, a council member of National Council for Persons with Disabilities, a board member of Fiji Council of Social Services and a working group member of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund.

According to the Pacific Disability Forum, Mr Wakaniyasi was a pillar and tower of strength to the Fiji disability community as well as the forum members in the 20 Pacific Island countries and territories ensuring that assistive devices are available for persons with disabilities in Fiji and the Pacific.

In 2007, he joined the disability sector, focusing on improving the lives of people living with spinal injury and physical impairment, and became interim president of the Spinal Injury Association.

The forum said Mr Wakaniyasi was an advocate, a champion, and a leader in the disability community.

He led and managed several key focus areas for the organisation and one key area was the precondition to inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Mr Wakaniyasi received an award in 2019 at the 6th Pacific Regional Conference on Disability in recognition of the work he had done.

Under his portfolio, he led the discussion for a regional procurement hub for the Pacific for assistive devices, something that he was passionate about which he started and supported since his days at the Spinal Injury Association of Fiji.

Ensuring that the building environment is accessible to persons with disabilities, he led the access audit project and the organisation and audited the UN offices and premises in Fiji, Tonga, Solomon Island and Vanuatu.

Leadership Fiji paid tribute to Mr Wakaniyasi, saying he contributed to Leadership Fiji as a speaker at Leadership Fiji’s human rights sessions and always encouraged participants to challenge him with questions which he would willingly answer without fear.

“We remember Joshco for his humour, extraordinary memory, and courage to ‘wheel the talk’ as he likes to put it,” Leadership Fiji said.

“He is an inspiration and role model to everyone who crossed paths with him.”

Mr Wakaniyasi’s efforts have been recognised by several major organisations — he was Vodafone ATH Fiji Foundation’s longest serving “World of Difference” candidate, working on key “Physically Challenged Enabling Project” activities; and was the recipient of the 2013 Pacific Community’s Human Rights Award for co-developing and designing the IDEA Program.

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