Vasso Vydelingum

As Mauritius celebrates its fiftieth anniversary of independence on the 12th of March 2018, I recall vividly the proud day in our history. The island had barely recovered from ethnic conflicts and in the week preceding the ceremony, torrential rains had prevailed, which stopped unexpectedly, as if by providence leaving, a calm and sunny day, for the ceremony at Champ de Mars. The lack of opportunities and prospects for young people like me after independence became a major push factor towards migration. However, for those without the means to study or work overseas, few avenues existed.  I was lucky to benefit from a government study travel loan. I left Mauritius in December 1970, to pursue a career in nursing, like thousands of other young Mauritians before me.

Landing at a much smaller Heathrow airport than it is now, England’s cold and wet winter morning was a shock to someone hailing from a tiny tropical island, hardly a speck on the map. Nothing had prepared me for the culture shock that was to change my life, both personally and professionally.  The supportive letter, I had received from the Matron of the hospital, detailing every step of my journey from London to the local hospital, was comforting and reassuring.  When people used to ask me where I was from. They used to say: ‘Mauritius, where is that?’. Now, when I tell people I am from Mauritius, they tell me of the fantastic holidays they have had, the great hotels they had stayed at, and how they long to go back. This brings a sense of personal pride for me and bears testimony to our great tourist industry.

During my career in the British National Health Service for more than 21 years before going into Higher Education, I have had privileged access to people’s lives and their families,  sharing in their joys and sorrows – memories which I treasure to this very day. Managers and senior clinicians have always been supportive of my endeavours and desire to engage in further and higher education, through generous financial support on secondment basis.  Such sponsorship enabled me to study from diploma, to degree and doctoral level, something I could not have achieved if I had not decided to make Britain my home, to raise my family. I am grateful for such confidence placed in me, as a better qualified professional, I was able to demonstrate leadership in providing innovation and managing change in practice.   While the application process can sometimes be traumatic, I have always seen rejections as challenges to succeed. Be determined and persevere until you succeed have been my motto. I have always found managers to be always accommodating when asking for advice and guidance.

For the last fifteen years of my career before retirement in 2013, I worked at Surrey University, a prestigious university where the culture was, you either publish or perish. I remember feeling so dejected after my first manuscript was rejected by well-known Nursing Journal.  My philosophy has always been: never give up and persevere, use feedback as a learning tool.   So I used the reviewers’ feedback to improve. Now, I have numerous publications in peer reviewed scientific journals, co-authored 2 book chapters and a children’s book.

Young Mauritians today, 50 years post-independence, luckily have free access to education from pre-primary to PhD level, all available in Mauritius. Appreciate what you have and use education as a tool to be the best you can be. Use your knowledge and skills to be in the driving seat for engaging with future global challenges such as climate change, pollution, social responsibility with social media usage, and web–enablement across geographical boundaries, especially the growth of digital economies and cyber security. Finally, the story of my life in the UK offers to you, Mauritian citizens of tomorrow, perseverance and resilience as key to success. Be inspiring and make a difference, however small. I would like to end quoting from V. S Naipaul’s ‘The Overcrowded Barracoon’: the Mauritians have such confidence in their rights, their votes, the power of their opinions..’  How true. Be proud to be a Mauritian, as Mauritius has been one of the most successful democracies in sub-Saharan Africa.