Weiyi Cao - Culture & Community, Community Village Project in Fiji
For years Fiji has been a mysterious place for me, the only thing I knew about the country was its luxurious water - Fiji water. A short but unforgettable two-week volunteering experience exposed the every single aspect of traditional true Fijian life to me.
Community Village Project summary
Working as a Community Village Project volunteer, I was placed in a traditional Fijian village, 40 minutes drive outside the capital city of Suva. Compared to the Teaching or Caring projects based in towns and cities, this project is more flexible. A normal daily routine includes teaching at kindergarten or primary school in the morning, a few hours of free time after lunch and helping high school students with their maths in the evening.
My placement - Mokani Village
I was lucky I had my friend Alice doing the same project, so that I wasn’t too nervous about my arrival in the village. We were formally welcomed by a group of senior male villagers in the community hall, a place where all village meetings take place, that’s also the first time I drank kava, a traditional drink in Fiji. In the following two weeks in the village, I learned that kava is very popular among the villagers.
We stayed with the chief family of the village. I have to say that throughout my two-week time in Mokani, I had always felt like I was treated as a guest in terms of their hospitality. It is very difficult not to put on weight according to my own experience, every day we were provided with huge meals from breakfast to dinner. The family also kindly allowed us to cook some Chinese cuisine for them, which I think is definitely good for cultural exchange.
During my stay in the village, I was expected to respect and follow the traditional customs. A longer skirt and shoulder covered top is always needed when walking in public areas, it took me days to get used to wearing long skirts to walk around.
Teaching at kindergarten/primary school
We spent the first week teaching the kids at kindergarten from 8:30-11:30am. To be honest, what I saw in the kindergarten was beyond my previous expectations. Although there was only one teacher, Madam Eileen taking care of nearly 30 kids, provided with only basic equipment, their daily activities and weekly tasks were amazingly well prepared and organized. Our job was to assist Madam in in-door activities such as drawing and teaching them new out-door games.
Language was the main difficulty, for young children in villages they only understand very little English, but we managed to communicate with them by body language and doing demonstrations. The second week teaching 1st years at primary school was definitely more tiring. This time Madam handed over the whole class of 28 students to us, that’s when I met some of the naughtiest boys I had ever seen.
Maths classes in the evenings
One of the most unforgettable moments in Fiji is definitely the evenings spent with the high school students. We were told by Uncle Ratu (the chief secretary of the village) that students in Fiji generally don’t do very well in maths, therefore we came up with the idea of helping them in the evenings. These evening sessions took place in friendly and relaxing atmosphere, it was rewarding to see they made gradual progress and also very fun to chat with them at the same time.
Free time and weekends
During our spare time, we managed to travel to Nausori (the nearest town) with some of the family members, that’s where I got to know more about the local life in towns. We chose to spend the weekend away from the village in Pacific Harbor, a tourist town not far from Suva. When we described what we had seen and experienced in the village to the hotel staff, we were told that that is the real Fiji.
This community is rather special, it’s a good opportunity to immerse yourself to a completely new culture. For me Fiji is no longer just a destination for holidays in luxury resorts and producer of Fiji water, it’s a wonderful country where there are some of friendliest people in the world. In the end, I would like to say ‘Bulavinaka’ to all of those who have helped and supported me during my time in Fiji!