By Emily Nanovich-Walker
This summer I spent a month volunteering in Fiji with Think Pacific.
Before beginning the 28 hour journey to the other side of the world, which took me through Singapore, Sydney and finally to Fiji, there were many things I thought I was ready for- I had bought the entire Boots pharmaceutical aisle. Yet despite this, there was nothing I could have done to prepare for the unforgettable month I was about to embark on.
Upon arrival in Nabila village our team was greeted by the villagers with a traditional ‘Sevusevu’ ceremony. This tradition takes places whenever visitors arrive, as it is a way for the Fijians to welcome them into their community. During the ceremony one sits crossed-legged on the floor and drinks Kava, consisting of ground up pepper root mixed with water.
We then met our families and enjoyed our first Fijian night in the village. Living an authentic Fijian lifestyle was one thing I was apprehensive about before the project, yet I can say it was one of my favourite experiences The endless smiles and dancing of my “nephew”, a 1 ½ year-old called Gabriel who enjoyed tottering around the village trying to join in with the older kids’ football games, I am sure to never forget. I truly felt like I was part of their family.
Wherever you go people greet you with an enthusiastic “Bula!”
They went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable, and we shared both laughter and tears together. ‘Smack-juice’ nights, whereby you drink very sugary juice then get up and dance with the children to an assortment of songs, a favourite of which was a little ditty called ‘Scooby Doo Pa Pa’, were a source of considerable amusement; but all were weeping when we left for home at the end of project.
The Fijian people have the philosophy that anyone is welcome, so to say that they are friendly is a massive understatement. Doors are left open inviting anyone walking by to pop in for tea and cake; and wherever you go people greet you with an enthusiastic ‘Bula!’
In terms of food, I tried many new vegetables and dishes including home-grown breadfruit and root crops like Cassava and Dalo. One of my favourite dishes was roti and pumpkin curry. Fijian pancakes; a mix between fluffy pancakes and a doughnut, were a firm breakfast favourite too.
I also embraced the local fashion, itself very different to that of the UK: women cannot wear trousers and, as is the case in many parts of the world, may not have their legs or shoulders showing. The upshot was that I spent an entire month wearing brightly patterned Sulus (wrap-around maxi skirts) and Bula dresses (floral maxi dresses).
The main purpose of the trip was our work in Fijian schools teaching Maths and English and this was one of my highlights. I chose to teach in the Kindergarten so was surrounded by twelve 6 year olds for three weeks, singing, dancing and colouring – I think the ‘Hokey Kokey’ will be engrained in me forever! Working with these children was one of the most rewarding experiences of my time on this unique Pacific island nation as children, who were initially unable to recognise their ‘ABC’ and numbers, were able to by the end of project. The bonds created with these children were incredible and it always made me smile walking in each morning to a chorus of ‘Hello Madame!’.
In the afternoon we introduced sport to the children which they thoroughly enjoyed and excelled in, with rugby and football definitely being the most popular. Getting the older boys to embrace the great British sport of rounders was slightly tougher, but to see them loving it in the end was amazing.
Overall, this experience was one of the most rewarding and unforgettable things I have ever done. This project emphasised that our developed way of life has disregarded the importance of society’s building-blocks: family, the church and community, things which the Fijians place above anything else. Finally, the project certainly showed me that life without all our superfluous materials is just as fulfilling as our lives with them, and hence made me thankful for all the things we take for granted. I highly recommend this trip to anyone looking to have a memorable summer!
Photographs: Emily Nanovich-Walker