Imagine growing up on an island with no shops, little to no technology, and only a handful of other kids to spend your time with. That is the unique childhood I experienced, growing up on Taveuni, called the garden island of Fiji. It’s 42km long and about 11km wide, and we knew every inch of that island. Once the home of fierce warriors, Taveuni residents still exude pride and confidence in their step.

My mum was a nurse, and my dad a teacher – both have passed away now. I was an only child, but there were four other kids, so we always had someone to play with. We’d make our own entertainment: I loved fishing and swimming; we’d explore the island and make billycarts. We had to walk barefoot for miles to get to school, but the walks were nice and we got to take in island life. I miss it a little. I didn’t really appreciate it for what it was until I grew up and met other people who had more boring lives.

I left the island at 18 to go to college, but halfway through I decided to join the army. I didn’t tell my parents – they were quite shocked and upset. But you have to take opportunities. I served in the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon in 1985 under the UN, and continued on other missions in Egypt’s Sinai desert and Afghanistan, and was a private contractor in Iraq.

When I walked off the plane in Dubai after my last mission on 16 January 2016, I knew I had a few hours to wait for my connecting flight, so I found a seat where I could sit quietly and think about the people I had just served with and grown to love. That’s where I met my partner, an Adelaide woman returning from a tourism conference. And it’s what brought me here to Adelaide.

I had a great life: work, travel, walking, dancing. Then I felt like I lost it all. I had a stroke in 2017. It was heartbreaking and I was very depressed and there was a lot of hate, hate and more hate.

It took me two years to change my state of mind, to look at my special ability, not my disability. I am very blessed to have a lady who stood next to me, and helped pull me out from my depressed state to who I am today.

Basically, my primary goal is to feel happy and live my dream life. Now I’m a member of the Comet’s Powerchair soccer team, and we’re gearing up to play in Sydney this year. It gives freedom to people with disability out there to come and know that you are not alone.

The Big Issue was life-changing for me. The money I earn goes towards my tuition for further studies and paying the bills. I’ve been selling since December 2020, and I love my job. It gave me a life back into the community and expanded my horizons to know that I’m not alone out there. I love meeting and talking to the multicultural community in the City of Churches. That’s my favourite part. I’ve made friends, real friends. People like me! Finally, I’ve found like‑minded people who made me feel comfortable and accepted me the way I am.

Savey sells The Big Issue at O’Connell St, North Adelaide and Mitcham, Adelaide.

Interview by Matt Stedman.

Photo by Nat Rogers.