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Unable to read at 12, now a PhD candidate

Occero Fuller says he intends to give back to Jamaica

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Sunday Observer staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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Occero Fuller has a strong resolve to give back to his country.

It's a conviction that is no doubt influenced by his experience as a youngster growing up in rural Jamaica, as well as his interaction with primary school children in Hanover.

“I am committed to making a difference in my community, family and, by extension, country,” the 31-year-old told the Jamaica Observer after being informed that he has been awarded the European Union-funded Building University Links for Action (BULA) scholarship to pursue a PhD in Tourism Management at the University of the South Pacific (USP).

Fuller, who holds a Master of Arts in Development Studies from the National University of Samoa, which was also sponsored by the European Union through the Caribbean-Pacific Island Mobility Scheme (CARPIMS) Scholarship, told the Sunday Observer that being awarded the BULA scholarship to pursue his doctoral studies is humbling, and serves as a reminder that it's not how you start, but how you finish the journey of life.

Sobering words from a young man who, in an interview with the Observer in 2014, when he was just awarded the CARPIMS scholarship, shared his life story of not beginning to learn to read until he was 12 years old, as his great-grandmother, with whom he was sent to live in rural Jamaica for a better life, did not send him to school.

“I wasn't sent to school. Education was not a priority where I was sent. I woke up in the mornings, got water, tied goats, attended to household chores, went to the farm, reaped produce, went to the market to sell, and returned home with the profits,” Fuller stated in that 2014 interview.

Back then, Fuller had also said that whatever your goals are, it is important that you be steadfast, know you have to get there, and go for them.

“I want people to know they too can do it. I learned to read at 12 and it was not an easy feat, but I have never stopped trying and now I can't believe I am about to do a PhD,” he said.

The BULA scholarship, he said, aims to foster sustainable development and poverty alleviation by encouraging education opportunities while promoting brain circulation and not brain drain in the Pacific and Caribbean region.

Moreover, Fuller said the PhD hinges on the research he did for his master's degree, which looked at youth tourism with a focus on backpack tourism in Samoa.

For his PhD Fuller will do a comparative study between Samoa and Jamaica looking at the role of tourism in the sustainable development of local communities.

Apart from his studies, Fuller is expected to lecture and attend conferences on behalf of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at USP, if and when required.

Along with his academic pursuits, Fuller also became fluent in Gagana Samoa, the main language of the Samoan people, while he did his master's.

“I felt it was important for me to immerse myself in the culture. I didn't just want to do academic work, I wanted to be part of the culture — and they have a rich, traditional society. It was just this big melting pot and I became involved as much as I could,” he said, adding that he also initiated the start of the debating society at the National University of Samoa.

As it relates to his academic growth and development while in Samoa, he credits his foundation at The University of the West Indies (UWI) and mentorship by lecturers Penelope Schoeffel and Malama Meleisa from Samoa.

“While at UWI I was a part of the gender society and we had done a literacy and numeracy programme with a school in Hanover called Success Primary,” he said. “Since then, I have been carrying it with me to continue. When we saw their need, the distance they had to travel to school and what school meant for them, it was touching. By virtue of talking to them you saw that yearn for success, and you noticed that resources are not at their disposal but they wanted more for themselves. I want to continue giving back to them and help in motivating.”

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