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Mother Mere's mission forges Fijian football fairytale

Mere and Hala share a special bond.
Mere and Hala share a special bond.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

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An extraordinary act of motherly love in the face of gossip and superstition has helped to facilitate a Fijian football fairytale for one profoundly deaf woman.

Ever since she was a baby, people have been whispering about Halamehi Tuilomania.

"There's little gossips going around saying: 'They must have done something bad. That is why they have daughter who is deaf'," her mother Mere remembers.

"It is the Pacific way of thinking."

Twenty-three years on, they are still whispering about Hala, as she is better known, but these days they are saying things like: "She has the best boot in Fiji" and "Australian AFL clubs should look at her".

Hala is a mainstay of the Fijian national team.
Hala is a mainstay of the Fijian national team.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Inspired by her cousin, former Port Adelaide Australian Football League (AFL) defender Alipate Carlile, and assisted by development programs in her school, Hala has developed into a star of the Australian Aid-supported women's AFL program in Fiji and one of the most exciting prospects in the Pacific.

She is also studying 'Library and Information' at the University of the South Pacific. Hala remains profoundly deaf.

"I am always into the websites of different clubs and my dad gets angry sometimes when he opens up the laptop and it's all AFL - not my studies," she giggles while communicating in sign language to Mere. When Mere interprets, she can't help but insert a slight tone of maternal disapproval.

Hala is juggling study and sporting commitments.
Hala is juggling study and sporting commitments.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

She is entitled to. Hala's accomplishments would be impossible except for an extraordinary act of love and devotion by her mother. When Hala was a young child, Mere abandoned life as she knew it, left her job, and intensively studied sign language until she became adept.

She then attended school with her daughter every day for eight years, interpreting every word the teacher said. She turned her existence over to the pursuit of a full life for her daughter.

"We just decided that if she's here, we have to look after her," Mere says.

"We had to make quite a few choices in life. We just took a stand.

"You have to make good use of whatever possibilities and opportunities she can take."

- Mere Tuilomania

Mere's dedication and Hala's diligence have combined to open a world of possibilities and opportunities.

Hala says her mother's devotion has created many opportunities.
Hala says her mother's devotion has created many opportunities.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

The connection they share is plain to see and unlike any other; a rare mix of affection, respect and intuition. It goes beyond mother and daughter because Hala has trusted Mere with the responsibility of being her voice in the world.

Mere is a friend, confidante and guide that, in many ways, is living the life of a woman in her early 20s. They are a dynamic duo but there remains a mutual recognition of each other’s individual identity.

Clearly, Hala has a wicked sense of humour, and Mere has become skilled at communicating it. When Hala and Mere are chatting, anyone listening is soon laughing along.

"She is a special woman," Mere says, quoting Hala. Nowhere is their bond more evident than when Mum is interpreting her daughter talking about her mother.

"She understands me, she reads me and knows what I am going through even before I share it with her and I am so grateful for the support."

- Hala Tuilomania

Mere speaking to Hala in sign language.
Mere speaking to Hala in sign language.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Mere is at pains to explain she enjoys many benefits from their relationship too.

"It is something that I wouldn't want to lose," she says, her daughter watching her every word closely.

"It's priceless."

Hala working on her skills in the hope of playing at a higher level.
Hala working on her skills in the hope of playing at a higher level.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Sign language for 'AFL' is to punch an open hand with a closed fist, as if handballing to a teammate. Football is clearly Hala's favourite thing to talk about and she does a lot of handballing when she is signing excitedly about the game she loves. She explains, via Mum, how her speed and defence are strengths, but she is working hard to improve her marking.

"What I really need now is a higher level of footy," she declares.

Achieving that will be a challenge. It may mean travel to Australia, probably for Mere as well as Hala. But Team Tuilomania are tough to beat, and they are always finding a new way to get people whispering.

This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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