Secondhand Tech in Fiji Better Business Than Fishing

Nemi Waqu is 40 years old and a rarity in her the seaside town of Savusavu in Northern Fiji. She's a businesswoman, owns an instant photo shop she runs with used computer equipment, and makes a better income than she did fishing.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

In some parts of the world, a single computer - even one that we might think of as out of date, slow or even worthless - can change many lives. In northern Fiji, reporter Louise Rafkin discovered what happens when the power of a rebuilt PC is combined with a lot of determination.

LOUISE RAFKIN: Nemi Waqu is 40 years old and a rarity in her seaside town of Savusavu. She's a businesswoman. She owns an instant photo shop.

Ms. NEMI WAQU: Right now, we are inside our shop, a small shop which we do instant photos.

RAFKIN: Before, she and her husband fished for their livelihood and to feed their nine kids. Now, the photo shop earns in a day what most in this town earn in an entire week.

Ms. WAQU: Everybody around Savusavu, they really get shocked when they come here and they see me with a computer in front of me. Because all the time they see me in the sea and they said, oh, Nemi, how come you know this? Where do you learn computer? And I just joke to them. I said, on top the reef.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAFKIN: There's hardly room to turn around in the tiny shop. The single computer was built for her by John and Barbara Noell, American ex-pats who run a computer store across the road. John Noell says it's all worth about 1,200 U.S. dollars.

Mr. JOHN NOELL: She's earned many, many, many times as much money as we ever gave her to begin with.

RAFKIN: It's a ready market. Fijians need personal photos when they fill out applications - for school, for driving, for a telephone. Before Waqu started this business, you could get Polaroids in town but they were expensive.

Waqu was raised in a farming village and she wants me to see just how far she's come, but she also has to work. So, her son takes me on a bus and then by foot through the jungle to a cluster of thatched-roof shacks. About 50 people live here. Days are spent working in the fields growing food and nights are spent singing under the stars.

In miles, it's not that far from the Waqus shop but in some ways it's really far.

(Soundbite of people singing in foreign language)

RAFKIN: One of Waqu's children may eventually take on her business, but what she's already given her kids is an example of how to think bigger. One by one, they tell me what they want to be when they grow up: a doctor, a veterinarian, a pilot. In a place where few finish elementary school, let alone go to college, they have high aspirations.

But John, who's just five years old and named after Waqu's American benefactor, wants what many young Fijian boys want: to be a rugby star.

For NPR News, this is Louise Rafkin.

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