Fiji is unlike any tropical paradise you’ve seen before. If you look deeper and not just at the beautiful surroundings, friendly people, laid back “Fiji Time” that runs slower than a hare and tortoise racing, and I mean ‘sloooower’ with the emphasis on the ‘o’. You’ll find that volunteering is truly a rewarding experience that not many people have the chance to discover in one’s lifetime.
I’m now sharing some of the stories from my very own work mates from STA Travel who’ve spent some time volunteering in the Fiji Islands with Awesome Adventures Fiji.
LEAVING BEHIND THE LUXURIES
I’m what they call a flash packer and unashamedly cling to my creature comforts when travelling abroad. So when I found out I was going to be spending a week with no hot water, limited access to electricity and no air conditioning, I carefully reconsidered the packing regime and took out anything but necessities and got ready to fly out.
FIFTY SHADES OF BLUE
We left Port Denarau Marina on the Yasawa Flyer. The scenery along the journey was a heady mix of various shades of blue, beautiful and iridescent like, where the sky and the seas seem to merge together. Stops were made at each peaceful island along the route either picking up passengers or dropping them off.
Barefoot Manta Island was our base for the next few days. Staying in traditional ‘bures’ (it looks something like a tree hut), we were in dorm shares with the basics. The loveliest of many moments was when we were greeted upon arrival by a guitar strumming Fijian on the beach. Who doesn’t like to be serenaded to hey?
EMBRACE AND RESPECTING THE LOCAL CULTURE
Eager to embrace local culture, we joined the locals for a drop of Kava. This is definitely not the fizzy wine but an odd tasting milky liquid made from a root and drunk from a coconut…so a little warning, you might feel a little buzz by the end of consuming 4 to 5 cups!
As a volunteer, everyone must respect local culture so we were issued with sarongs to wear (male or female depending!) to ensure that our knees were covered.
Up early for breakfast and then the 1-hour boat trip to Naviti Island – word of warning you will get wet on this journey! The local children who attend the Yasawa High School from surrounding islands also have to make this journey so will often arrive at school soaked through before they even start. Outwardly the school and grounds look idyllic with wide-open spaces, well-kept fields with individual buildings around the edges. But inside it’s another story, no reprieve from the heat, dated furniture and very basic resources, yet at every desk there is a smiling face.
My job today was to assist the teacher in a class of 5 year olds while she was carrying out feedback sessions with parents. The smallest things mean so much to these children – they all were proud to possess their own individual pencil. Encouraging them to share their language skills we played a board game so that they could shout out words that they recognised, they all shouted out at once, eager to be heard! If these children are lucky enough to continue their studies they may travel to Fiji’s main island called Viti Levu and make a living. If not, then their future will probably involve relying on what tourism brings to the Islands for which English is essential.
HOW YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Our aim today was transform what was a blank canvas classroom into a colourful environment for the pre-school children. We had already agreed who was going to sketch what and had decided on a Nursery Rhyme theme. We had such little time but so much to do so individually we all got on with our own projects. As we cleared the room in preparation it was shocking to see how few resources there were and how out of date they were.
Within a few hours it was clear to see we’d made a difference, if a small one, and everywhere you looked there were visually stimulating scenes that will make the room a more pleasurable environment for the children to be in. Before we left the island we handed over the newly decorated building to the nursery teacher who was visibly moved by the transformation, and to ensure we are remembered, all STA Travel colleagues put their handprints on the outside wall. We made our weary way back to Barefoot Manta Island, exhausted but immensely pleased with the day’s work.
TOP TIPS WHEN VOLUNTEERING IN FIJI
- Take waterproofs for the boat journey.
- Take small items for donations i.e. Colouring books and pencils or reading books, playing cards etc.
- Come prepared with lots of energy and enthusiasm.
- Be prepared to lose a little bit of your heart when leaving.
Every small contribution counts and gives you the opportunity to combine your holiday with a way to genuinely ‘give back’ and lend a hand to the people of Fiji’s Yasawa Islands. It’s rewarding, it’s insightful and everyone always wishes they stayed longer.