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Summer Programmes

What To Expect If You Volunteer In Fiji

4 November 2017

Joining a Traditional Fijian Village:

Joining a Fijian village is probably one of the biggest culture shocks you will ever experience. The Sevu Sevu (a
welcoming ceremony to accept us into the village) is the first complete culture shock. Even though we are briefed on
what to expect, how to act and what to say, no one wants to do anything wrong. As volunteers, we are constantly
keeping in mind how to sit properly and how to take the grog (the local home brew made from the cava root which
makes your limbs go numb), in order not to cause any offence. Saying that, all of us kept saying ‘Dola’ wrong (it’s pronounced ‘Thola’, spelt ‘Cola’– which means ‘Hello’/ ‘good health to you’ in the Nadroga & Navosa Province). The Chief found this hilarious, and so kept taking the mick out of those who pronounced it wrong – which was a relief!

Being introduced into the homes is another culture shock. Having to go outside on nightly trips to the toilet, trying to
remember to say “chilo” (‘excuse me’) when walking amongst people, and remembering not to touch your food
without first giving ‘masu’ (prayer). Although all the customs seemed intense within the first hour of being
there, when I met my family I felt completely at ease. My sister, Mele, and her 9-month old son (the cutest little boy
ever!) were the first people I properly met – my Fijian parents were away on the islands fishing! Mele has the best
sense of humor so it was really easy to feel relaxed in our new home. She continued to tell us about everyone in our
(rather large) family and this felt slightly overwhelming as most of our family lives on the same street (well, strip of
grass). It does take a while to remember who everyone is, and how they’re related to us! Two other volunteers (our
cousins) lived opposite us in our auntie’s house (who was the first female Sea Captain in Fiji) where we ate every
day. Eating as a family with fellow volunteers made it a lot easier to adapt, as there were 4 of us who could help
each other.

After 2-3 days I felt as if I had been in the village for a lifetime. Mealtimes were sometimes challenging during those first few days. As hosts, our family insisted on waiting for us to finish our meals before they would eat (despite our invitations for them to eat with us!) However, the third day was such a highlight as it was the first time we all ate as a family. We really felt fully accepted as family (not guests) and from there the banter just got better and better…

Evening family games were some of my best memories from the village. Fijians love card games and will keep playing
the same one over and over, finding it just as hilarious every time they play (‘Last Card’ was the family favorite). We
even taught our family how to play ‘Spoons’ – which may or may not have been a good decision (it got pretty brutal
at times and we all came away with a few nail marks on our fingers). Fijians tend to be very competitive and may
even cheat at card games, which my brother Bibi was a master at; but he taught me how to cheat as well so I didn’t
mind and kept quiet!

Even though village life is completely amazing, there is one thing that pretty much every volunteer will have to deal
with, and that is getting the runs. No matter how much you try to avoid it by taking multi-vitamins or blockers, you
will just have to accept the inevitability. My volunteer sister and I had them for six days straight, during which I may
or may not have pooped my pants. But hey, it’s all part of the experience!

Apart from that, washing clothes and bathing in the river, helping with the cooking, collecting firewood, going to the
farm to pick purple sweet potatoes (which are just delicious!) and collecting lemon leaves in the morning to make
‘roni moli’ (lemon leaf tea) are just some of the best things that are wound into village life and culture and are what
makes the whole experience so amazing! That, and all of the food – you will never go hungry in a Fijian village! If you
wanted to, you could have 3 dinners in one night! Our family wouldn’t let us go to someone else’s house for dinner
unless we had tea first. If you are a food lover, just wait until you try Fijian food, you will be blown away. Roti with
my uncle Ben’s pumpkin noodle curry was my all-time favorite meal as well as my sister’s coconut buns, which she
taught us how to make. Even if we didn’t like something or if we were ill and struggled to eat anything, it was so easy
to let our family know and they would give us bread or crackers with black tea to help us get better.

A fun fact about our village was that it was home to the ‘bone doctor’ (also my auntie’s ex-boyfriend); the gift is
passed down from father to son and they have natural powers that can help to heal bones. We were sat having
dinner one night and the bone doctor was redressing our Aunties arm which she had broken a few weeks
beforehand. She told us that he had massaged her bone, felt that it was fractured, and then proceeded to snap it in
half (which she apparently couldn’t feel) to make it a clean break and then dressed it with the traditional leaves
(kawakawarau) and a bandage. We couldn’t look when he took the bandage off, it was too gruesome!

Another village claim-to-fame is that Nadroumai is home to international rugby player Waisake Naholo of the All
Blacks. The group was fortunate enough to gather round at Naholo’s family home one evening to watch Waisake
during his Test start for the All Blacks vs. The Lions in the Second Test of the 2017 Lions Series. It was a real privilege for us all and a truly once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-Fiji experience! Some of the volunteers were even unsure whether they wanted The Lions or Waisake’s All Blacks to win! We were all hugely grateful to the Naholo family for letting us cheer on Waisake and The Lions in their home, and to watch the game with rugby-mad Fijians was amazing! It’s common knowledge in rugby circles that when Waisake broke his leg in 2015, he was told he’d be sidelined for 3 months and miss the Rugby World Cup. Of course, he came back to Nadroumai village where he was treated by his uncle – the bone doctor. Using traditional healing methods, the doctor applied kawakawarau leaves to Naholo’s leg for 4 days and when he removed the leaves the injury was said to be gone! Waisake was told that he wouldn’t be able to compete at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but lo and behold… he did!

My impact as a volunteer:

Watching the kids develop and get better in school was very rewarding. My first class was Year 6 which was great as
they were all so well-behaved. It was sometimes difficult to know where to start as the things they were learning in
class were quite advanced, yet when I gave them the same question in a slightly different way, they didn’t know how
to do it. So striping things back and trying to make fun individual games to help them learn was so fun, and they
eventually began to grasp concepts and started to make their way back up – it’s so fulfilling to witness that development.

House Cup is always a blast! Our first week was jungle-themed Arts & Crafts. My House (Blue House = the best)
made a palm tree with materials that they collected from around the school grounds; sticks, leaves, flowers, and
sand. They put it together so fast, it was very impressive! From there, they drew jungle animals and covered them in
coloured sand and any other materials that they could find themselves. It was very messy but so fun to watch them
being creative and having the best time.

The House Cup Singing Competition was by far my favourite; although there might have been some arguments over
who got which song, it was so fun to make up a dance routine and see the kids learn the words and get to grips with the dance so fast. Fijians just seem to be good at everything! My Houses did ‘Where You Are’ from Moana and ‘Hoe Down Throw Down’ from Hannah Montana in the other school. Within both schools, some of the songs were amazing! ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ from The Jungle Book was definitely the crowd favourite.

Sports was definitely the best time of day, seeing all of the children getting so hyped up and enjoying every minute
of it. Some of the schoolgirls got accepted into the provincial team for netball and rugby, and seeing this was such a
highlight as they had worked so hard to get there. I had never played rugby before this trip, but I can now say that I
am a huge fan thanks to Fijians infectious love of rugby – most conversations revolved around how either the All
Blacks or the Lions had won. It becomes a reality at how good Fijians are at sport when we had to play matches
against them and it was impossible to win.

Overall, as the Project goes on it is obvious how much it supports the development of children, as their Maths and
English skills improve significantly as well as their self-confidence and their enthusiasm towards school. It is
rewarding to look back at the end of the project and witness how much the children have progressed.

My Highlight:

The whole project was such a blast that is difficult to find a moment that completely stood out; however, one of my
favourite days was when we spent a whole Saturday in the village. It meant we got to spend the day completely experiencing village life; getting up at 6.30am to pick the lemon leaves, collecting the fire
wood (which required more than one person per log as they were way too heavy), going to the farm, washing all the pots and clothes in the river and helping to cook. It made me feel very Fijian and meant that we got to spend more time with our families.

What did I gain from the project?

The entire project and overall experience has definitely changed my outlook in terms of the things that we usually
take for granted in a ‘Westernised’ country; flushing toilets and the ability to take a warm shower, access to a variety
of foods that can arrive in our fridges within a matter of minutes, or the fact that we have full access to a very good
education and all the sports equipment we could ever need.

The project increased my confidence through teaching and provided me with many life skills such as patience, the
ability to stay calm in situations, being organized, being able to deal with conflict and being able to motivate
students to do their best – to name a few! This project has been one of the best experiences of my life and it is one that I am never going to forget.

Vinaka vakalevu,