Alexandra Lack - Medicine & Healthcare, Nutrition in Fiji
I graduated as a nutritionist and knew that this was the best time in my life to volunteer abroad. I had done a lot of internet searches and Projects Abroad was the most appealing organisation. I decided to go to a seminar and after hearing of all the extra support they offered, I knew that Projects Abroad was right for me. I immediately looked online to decide which country I would go to and decided on Fiji.
Arriving in Fiji
When I first arrived in Fiji, I couldn’t believe how smoothly everything went. I was welcomed at the airport by Projects Abroad with a huge Bula smile. I was even able to get a SIM card for my cell phone right at the airport so I could let my friends and family know I had arrived safely. Projects Abroad introduced me to my host family and made sure I was comfortable before leaving me to settle in.
My host family was amazing! I was able to live with an elderly couple who had children that were grown up and moved out. With both of them retired, their whole life was to take care of volunteers. They had a wonderful garden and my host mom was an incredible cook.
When I first arrived, my host dad took me on a walk around the neighbourhood. He showed me all of the nearby shops and of course the market. My host mom and dad had the biggest hearts and did anything they could to make sure myself as well as my host sisters were comfortable and felt at home. We really were their “children”. My host dad always knew how to make us laugh. Never once did I feel unwelcome or uncomfortable with the arrangements. Over the month, I grew very close with my host family and I was so sad to leave them and their gorgeous home.
Volunteering in Fiji
By choice, the afternoon of the day I arrived, I began my induction! The staff was all great, they all welcomed me and wanted to ask me a lot of questions to get to know me. My country organiser was great and answered questions throughout my entire stay. I arrived on a Thursday, which means it was a social night. Social nights happen every Thursday and it is when all of the volunteers and some of the staff get together in the evening for an event that the staff organises. It is a great way for all the new volunteers to meet everyone and for the people on different projects to talk about their experiences.
Throughout my time we had a couple different socials, watching fire dancing, reenacting a traditional kava ceremony, a Christmas BBQ and more. Lots of volunteers would go out in the evenings and on weekends as well but Thursdays were nice because the staff would join us as well as the volunteers in the other town.
I learnt so much on my project. My first full day, we did health screenings in a village in Lautoka. When we lead health screenings, we check blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, waist and hip measurements. After we have collected their data, we then explain to them ways that they can improve their health. This can be through food or exercise. The high blood pressure and high blood sugar in Fiji has sky rocketed in the last 20 years and the locals are uneducated about those topics so they do not know what that means. It was a great feeling to see the locals so appreciative of what we were doing for them.
Due to me being in Fiji over the Christmas holidays, villages were busy and did not want us to be in their homes as it got closer to Christmas so our team took a new initiative. My main goal was to create a school curriculum that volunteers can use in any of the local schools. The major lessons would be healthy food choices, active lifestyle and overall well-being. Why? This is my exact job at home.
The nutrition team also started to create gyms for under $5 FJD that anyone can use in their homes. Of course there was also lots of food preparation to be able to make cooking videos so we always needed to taste test!
The nutrition group was very small with anywhere from 3-6 volunteers at a time so we all worked very hard and were very close with one another. Of course there was lots of teasing each other and at times frustration but at the end of the day we were all having the best experience of our lives. There were volunteers from all over the world so not only was I able to learn about Fiji, I was also able to learn about Germany, Switzerland, Austria and more. It was always very sad to see volunteers leave but I know that they will always be lifelong friends.
The Nutrition project staff was awesome. I had so much fun with them! During my stay, I always felt like I could voice my thoughts and opinions and that I would be heard out. I felt like I was really playing a part in the project and was appreciated for my work. They also were able to educate me on so much from local foods to rates of diseases to everyday lessons.
Overall, I am so grateful I was able to have such an incredible experience. I have only been home for one month and I am already planning my next trip. There was never a dull moment in Fiji between my project and the extra activities like sky diving, scuba diving, cruises and of course Ed’s Bar that the volunteers and I took part in. I would do anything in the world to go back. Although I could only stay for one month, I know the relationships I created will last a life time!!