Flying out to Fiji to volunteer with Think Pacific was the scariest thing I had ever done. As the start date drew closer I couldn’t see a way I was ever going to survive the project. Life in Fiji showed just how wrong I could be as it was the very best experience of my life!
One of my biggest fears was meeting the other volunteers. I had nothing to worry about, they were a group of 19 determined and hard-working individuals and also the craziest and funniest bunch of people I have ever met. The castaway briefing was the perfect chance for us all to get to know each other through games of beach volleyball, snorkelling and hilarious attempts at paddleboarding.
We were well prepared to enter the village having written practice lesson plans, learnt about Fijian customs and drunk our first bowls of grog. The villagers of Vadravadra greeted us with the warmest of welcomes providing us with mountains of cakes and endless cups of tea. Their hospitality lasted for the whole trip as they continued to cook us the most delicious food, wash our clothes and teach us traditional skills such as basket weaving and bilo carving.
Over the coming weeks we took turns to work on build and in school and Kindi. Starting in school threw me in at the deep end because the teacher of Class 7 left me alone to teach an English lesson but as the week progressed and with the support of our leaders I found my feet and taught The Tempest. Teaching Shakespeare had been one of my goals for the project and using a play set on an island filled with magic and monsters seemed to appeal to the children and allowed us to do creative writing, class reading and art. Helping Class 8 with their Maths and Personal Finance lessons tested me as much as them and I relished the chance to introduce them to Drama. In order to bring their English unit on cinema to life, I helped them to create their own short films. Creating the stories led to some rather risqué plot twists but the class enjoyed writing the scripts, making props (including a giant car) and starring in their own films. Their teacher, Master Joe, supported my work throughout the project and said that now he had seen how Drama lessons worked he would try and make them regular lessons on the next year’s curriculum.
I spent my last two weeks on project in Kindi, introducing the themes of transport and explorers to the children. We used art, songs, books and games to help teach the children something new. In the first week the children loved making aeroplanes and hot air balloons but their highlight seemed to be making and painting paper boats which we then took down to the beach and set sail. In our last week we coloured treasure maps, drew pirate ships, constructed castles and built a den. We went on the hunt for palm branches and bits of wood before tying stars to the ceiling of our creation and using it as the setting for our reading time. Kindi was never dull and I always enjoyed it, even when having toothpaste spat on my feet during the chaos that was “toothbrush time”.
The build project taught me many skills and my initial worries about not being physically strong enough were put to rest as I was given jobs appropriate to my skill level. With motivational music blasting out of John’s speakers and regular tea breaks we were able to power through and build a whole set of new toilets for the village. Painting the toilet doors was very fun and Sara, Pippa and I were lucky enough to paint the door of our family’s toilet. We added our handprints to a circle made up of the handprints of our family and wrote Ne noqu vuvale vakadua which means forever a family.
Writing about all of our adventures in Fiji would take up so much space but our non-stop schedule saw us run holiday camps, attend church, lead a health walk and first aid class, run fundays, go trekking, play rugby and netball, learn Fijian card games and drink plenty of grog.
Our last few days in the village were full of goodbyes as the school held a party for us and we sang Coldplay’s The Scientist in church. Our last night in Vadravadra coincided with the 100 Nights celebration and so our houses were full of family and friends from other villages. In order to feed everyone the whole village went fishing and we spent 3 hours in the water pulling on a rope of leaves to scare the fish into a giant net. For a while it seemed like we weren’t going to catch anything but all of a sudden we were stood shoulder to shoulder as hundreds of fish swam into our net, it was incredible. The whole village was buzzing as we stayed up all night feasting, drinking grog, playing cards and dancing the hop-hop. Our wild night meant we were up to watch the beautiful sunrise as we reflected on our incredible 8 weeks in the village.
R & R helped us to slowly readjust to everyday life. We took this chance to celebrate the experience with our friends and think about how much fun we had had. In spite of tiredness, early mornings, funny tummies, tricky Meke steps and some very strong grog we had all had the most amazing time. Back at home I am still in touch with my Fijian family and introducing my English one to the culinary delights of Fiji. I will never forget the time I spent in the village and am pretty sure I will continue to start sentences saying “It’s like this time when I was in Fiji…”