MY EXPERIENCE VOLUNTEERING IN FIJI

On January 15th 2017, I set out for the trip of a lifetime. About 8 months earlier, I heard about this program through some friends who had travelled with them before and I was intrigued. I have always wanted to volunteer in a third world country and help make a difference but I had no idea how to do that. The program is run by an organisation called VESA. The organisation offers four different trips to spend two weeks in a poverty ridden country to help make a difference. The four trips are: Fiji, Laos, South Africa and South America. In January of this year, I set off to Fiji with 50 other volunteers from all around Australia.

It’s actually a funny story about how I came to travel with an old friend. I applied for the trip in May 2016 and I received my acceptance letter a day or two after that. The day I received my acceptance, i quickly went on to Facebook to post about how excited I was and there it was… a post by a girl I went to high school with and haven’t seen in ages was accepted as well. We then planned our trip together, excited that we were going to go with eachother.

I spent the next 7 months saving up every cent I could to pay off the trip and boy, was it worth it!

On January 15th 2017, I arrived at Nadi airport, Fiji. I remember the euphoric feeling I had landing at that airport. The scenery blew me away. It was just greenery and mountainous terrain as far as the eye could see. As beautiful as the scenery was, I could see straight away how different this country was from Australia and how privileged we really are back home. We met up with the other volunteers that had flew in and also our tour leaders at the airport who took us to our hostel from there. We spent the rest of the evening recuperating, preparing for the rest of the week and doing all of the orientation process.

On January 16th, we took a bus for ~5 hours to Nabukaluka village, where we would be spending the next 7 days volunteering. Upon arrival, we were separated in to groups of 3 or 4 and were introduced to a fijian family that we would spend the next week living with. At first, I found this process quite uncomfortable. I was separated from the friend I had came with and introduced to two other volunteers that I hadn’t met yet and we got introduced to our new ‘brother’ his name was Weis. The two volunteers I was grouped with’s names are Alana and Ebony, they are both beautiful people inside and out and I really relied on their friendship over the next few days.

The first day in the village was tough. It seemed like most of the families in the village spoke a decent amount of english but of course- ours did not. Communication was almost impossible, my anxiety was playing up being in such unfamiliar territory and the whole experience was becoming really overwhelming. Once we were introduced to Weis, he gave us the tour of the village. He showed us how to get from the school back to our home, where the spots in the river we could swim were, where the church was and we were introduced to so many villagers along the way. The village basically ran across one road and two paths where everyone’s houses branched off of. Weis took us to our new home where we met our new Mum and Dad. That first evening was so uncomfortable and awkward. Weis spoke little English but his was the best in the family, the parents spoke next to none. We were welcomed in to their home by sitting down as a family with some other villagers in the house and drinking Kava. Kava is a drink made from a plant that is very traditional to people of the pacific regions, especially in Fiji. It was a must that we drink it (even though we really did not want to) It tasted like we were drinking water that someone had just scooped dirt in to, I must say it was really hard to keep down the first time. We had dinner with our family that night and then we went up to the village hall to meet up with the other volunteers and their families. I was feeling really anxious and overwhelmed after dinner on that first night. We were given a vegetable called Taro and I really disliked it. When you would chew the Taro, it would turn in to a gluggy paste in your mouth and I really couldn’t swallow it without wanting to vomit. I ate as much as I could, tried to appear grateful to our new Mum for making us food and then we went up to the hall.

Weis showing us the river on Day 1

Dinner: Taro, Taro leaves and noodles.

Taro

Volunteers and Families in the Village Hall.

Every night of the week that we were in Nabukaluka, we would go up to the hall at 8pm for singing, dancing and Kava. On the first night when we finished up at the hall around 10pm, we came back home and were shown how we would sleep. Our families had lay down some sheets and pillows for us to sleep on. Alana, Ebony and myself all got a pillow each and slept next to each other the same way every night. We slept on top of a mat that our Mum put down for us and had some pillows and a sheet each.

Our Sleeping arrangements: Ebony’s ‘bed, Alana’s ‘bed’ and mine (mine was packed up when this photo was taken)

 That first night was the hardest. It was cold, I was uncomfortable, it was my first night not sleeping in western bed, I was starving because I hadn’t eaten any dinner, my mouth was tingling from the Kava and I really wanted to go home. I’m not going to lie, my anxiety took over and I had a bit of a cry in to my pillow that night. All i wanted was to be able to contact my boyfriend at home, but we had no contact with the outside world at all.

When I woke up the next day, I felt completely different. I was motivated, i felt grateful and (weirdly enough) I felt well rested. I remembered why I wanted to do this trip in the first place and realised just how lucky I was to be able to go back home to my privileges once this trip was over. It really hit me hard that this family who had nothing, let us live with them, they provided us with food and shelter and love. I couldn’t be ungrateful.

That second day was life changing. It was our first day of volunteer work. We went up to the village’s school at 9am and were delegated different jobs. Our aims for the week were to completely sand, repaint and clean all the classrooms, bathrooms and exterior walls of the school. We spent the next few days renovating the school for the children of the village that attended and I felt euphoric the entire time. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work. We spent 7-8 hours each day sanding, painting, cleaning each and every classroom and wall of the school but it was so so worth it. In the end, the school and the children attending it were so grateful for our efforts. Other than just sanding, painting and cleaning a couple of other things were done to help the school by our volunteers. Some volunteers were delegated to build a compost, fix an incinerator and install a water tank. In the dry season, the village doesn’t receive enough rain to fill their water tanks so the government comes and provides the villages with water. Unfortunately, the village water tank was located at the top of the hill within the school where the government trucks couldn’t actually access it to fill it up, this is why us installing a new water tank was so important. The volunteers installed the water tank at the bottom of the hill near a dirt track where the government trucks would be able to access it and provide the village with drinking water. With the village being so ridden with poverty and lack of education, the villagers were disposing all of their rubbish by throwing it in the streams that fed in to the river. By installing a compost, the fresh food scraps were able to be disposed of in a way that was sustainable. By fixing up the incinerator, the villagers were able to dispose of their non-food waste in a sustainable way as well. All the volunteers had the opportunity to actually teach inside one of the classrooms for a couple of hours on one of the days. This was something I looked forward to so much ans the experience was incredible. Myself and three other volunteers; Caitlin, Olivia and Tharika were assigned a class and we did some English and maths games with them and they were so cute. I was absolutley amazed at how good their English was. It really proved how important education is and how important it is that the children continue their education for as long as possible.


Sanding the first classroom, Day 2.


Painting Classroom 2, Day 3.

The class we were assigned for our turn in Education. How adorable are they all? So Cheeky.

I never realised until the day before we left Nabukaluka, how much this trip would affect me. I didn’t realise how much I would come to love each and every person I met in Nabukaluka. It honestly felt like home. I miss my fijian family every single day and there has not been a week that has passed since I got back home that I haven’t wondered how they are doing. It’s funny, on day 1 I went to bed crying and feeling so isolated and overhwhelmed and on day 7, I got on a bus to leave Nabukaluka and I was crying because I was going to miss that place, my family and new found friends so much. At the beginning of the week, my family spoke no English and by the third day we were able to communicate so much better. They learned certain phrases that we would say often and we started to learn some Fijian. Ebony, Alana and I quickly learned how to thank our mother for food and the tea that she provided us, we learned how to say good night, good morning and hello as we often had to say that to our families and other villages. These people truly stole apart of my heart and I feel as if Nabukaluka will always feel like a distant home. I’m not going to lie, this was the hardest week of my life. I couldn’t contact home, I was barely eating, I was barely sleeping, Communication was really hard, the bathroom facilities were…. complicated and it was simply just a whole new extreme that I thought I would never get used to, yet I did. By the last day, I was quite comfortable sleeping on the floor and taro got slightly less disgusting.

Leaving Nabukaluka was heartbreaking. My family stood among the other families outside the windows of the bus. All of us were crying and our families were crying too. It was heartbreaking knowing that these people that provided us with so much love, we may never see again. It was so difficult to fathom that these people opened up themselves, their homes and so much more to let us in and for what? to find people that were so compassionate back home in Australia would be almost impossible. I’d say ti would be pretty rare that someone here in Adelaide would open their homes to a stranger for a week yet these villagers who had so little, had so much to share.

 

To my Fijian Mum, Dad, Brother and my other Nabukaluka friends, vinaka vaka levu (thank you very much) for everything. I love you, I miss you, I’ll see you again. Moce Nabukaluka.

Alana (Top), Ebony (left), Our dad (Middle), Me (Right)

Ebony (Top), Alana (Left), Our Mum (Middle), Me (Right)

Some village friends who shared with us some fresh coconuts.
 

Me (left), Little Girl (I think she was a neice or cousin?) and Weis (Brother- Right)

All the volunteers out the front of the school, once renovations were completed.

Billy-Billy (Bamboo Raft) With Alana

Typical Breakfast Fruit, ‘pancakes’, Tea

I TOOK MORE VIDEO FOOTAGE THAN I DID PHOTOS ON THIS TRIP, I PUT TOGETHER A VIDEO COMPLIATION OF THE FOOTAGE AND PUT THE VIDEO ON YOUTUBE, I SUGGEST YOU WATCH IT IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MY TRIP.

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