Chris Church - Culture & Community, Community Village Project in Fiji
First Impressions of Volunteering in Fiji
My time in the majestic land of Fiji was a maelstrom of juxtaposing colours, cultures and experiences. As soon as I arrived in Nadi, I could feel the effervescent and friendly energy, it was palpable. Awash with sights, colours and smells, I was experiencing sensory overload. It was tremendous. One of the first people I met in Fiji was a woman named Meme; she worked in the Projects Abroad office in Nadi. She provided me with my first glimpse of Fijian hospitality and social interaction, a level of friendliness that I feel we are bereft of in England.
Walking around the high street for the first time, I can see countless stores and souvenir shops; beautiful clothing is available as well as jewellery and trinkets you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The first meal I sampled in Nadi was the mouth-watering ‘Dhal Soup’, and as a first meal, it had me eager for the chance to sample more of the local dishes. I was almost apoplectic when I returned home to find out that proper ‘Dhal Soup’ was pretty hard to come by.
The notion of ‘Fiji Time’ became apparent to me as soon as I arrived, it is the most relaxed place I have ever had the fortune of visiting. A world away from the hustle and bustle and inner-city stresses I am used to in England, ‘Fiji Time’ was delightful and most welcome.
My Village and Host Family
‘Dratabu Village’ or ‘Little Eden’ as it should be known, is an idyllic, serene and stunning village with enchanting scenery and wonderful people. I lack a superlative strong enough to describe this place and the people I met in it. I stayed with a lovely family and my time spent with them forced me to redefine kindness and decency. It was a truly humbling time.
I stayed with a woman named Lavenia, her husband Suliasi, their son Namisi and a fellow volunteer from Portugal, Manuel. We were also occasionally visited by their niece, ‘Vacala’ the ‘Little Troublemaker’ as me and Manuel referred to her. Countless other village folk would come into their home and be welcomed with a smile, a cup of tea and cooked meal. As an English graduate I enjoy writing, and spent a lot of my time on the veranda, writing blogs and articles. I would look up from my notepad and be faced with different animals feeding and frolicking in the distance. As a city-boy these experiences were new to me, but really enjoyable.
I ate so much, which was great, as I love food! There was always something on the stove, which meant luscious smells, constantly scenting the house. At night we would all sit outside and drink ‘kava’ together, sing songs and share stories.
It was at night when the place really came to life, the night sky was strewn with colours and bright stars like an artist splashing paint on to a canvas. I hadn’t seen a night sky like it. I was one of the first volunteers to be placed in this village, so as soon as word got out about how brilliant it was; more volunteers started flocking there, which was great.
I was able to work with young women from Australia who were on a gap year, as well as professionals from Portugal on a career break. I made such interesting friends, and travelled to remote places such as the ‘Yasawa Islands’, and ‘Mana Island’. I swam in the world famous ‘Blue Lagoon’ and encountered the gorgeous coral reef. I feel privileged to have experienced this wonderful country and to have met the people I acquainted myself with there.
Never before had I encountered such levels of respect towards elders from children. The pupils I taught at Dratabu Village Primary School were the happiest and most enthusiastic children I have ever met. With my pale skin and funny accent, naturally I was someone for them to prod and question. They were fascinated by stories from distant lands, I showed my class some photos of the English countryside in mid-winter and they were delirious at the sight of snow. I shared with the kids a story about how I had rented a car in Fiji, a truly terrible car, so terrible that on a main road I was overtaken by a cow. They loved to hear stories!
The programme was run really efficiently, and along with another English volunteer, I wrote a brand new curriculum. Several computers were donated to the school, and since most of the children were not computer literate, yet harboured dreams of going to high school, I thought it was the perfect chance to make a tremendous difference.
So I began tutoring the children in I.T and by the end of my stay in Fiji, my colleague and I had taught the entire school basic I.T. We left that school with a state-of-the-art curriculum that can be followed up by other teachers and volunteers.
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