Archive for the ‘September 2013 Expedition’ Category

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

An emotional farewell to Nawaikama village – ’sota tale’

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As the team depart Gau Island and make their way along the beautiful coral coast, the impact and achievements during the 8 weeks in the village will remain vivid in the minds of all the volunteers for a very long time. The community of Nawaikama offered the team a spectacular last week in the village and made sure their new sons and daughters had the best few days before they set sail to the mainland. The team were treated to experience something truly unique as the fishing clan took out volunteers each night over the week to go out night spearfishing. With the coral reef surrounding Gau offering some the best snorkeling in the whole of Fiji, it was an unbelievable experience and one that the volunteers won’t forget in a hurry. Amy was our natural fisherwoman, catching an impressive hoard during her trip.

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Much to the delight of the team, the final week also offered plenty of time spent with the clans and families. With the Fijian families lying at the heart of the expeditions, our guys all enjoyed a big farewell feast and grog session with their own clans. Immersing ourselves into traditional Fijian culture we also set to work on learning and practicing our mekes. With some of the school boys and village ladies helping teach our guys the traditional Fijian dances, the meke practices became the source of entertainment for the villagers as they would sing and laugh their way through the practices. The night before the opening ceremony saw the team dress up in their meke getup and perform it to the chief. In true Nawaikamain spirit, the grog was in full flow with some of our guys seeing it through til sunrise.

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Our final Saturday in the village saw the team host a ‘Think Pacific Fun Day’ for the village. With cake and sweet stalls, a treasure map, splat the rat, ‘art’ corner and a tombola offering some entertainment before a village volleyball tournament, it was a great afternoon spent with the whole community. The money raised will go towards school equipment and supplies for both the secondary and primary school so thank you for everyone who contributed in any way shape or form during the day.

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Sunday was a sober affair as it was time to say our very emotional goodbyes to our Fijian mums, dads, brothers and sisters. As a team we performed ‘Amazing Grace’ in church before the volunteers said their words of thanks and appreciation to their individual clans.

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And on that note, it was time for one final grog and hop hop until sunrise. It’s hard to sum up an experience like the last 8 weeks as the team have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into a community that has welcomed them with arms wide open. The kindness and loving nature of the Fijian families will stay with the team forever and their Fijian families will always keep their doors open for their sons and daughters to return.

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Gau Team – Opening Ceremony & Secondary School Celebration

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This final week saw the completion of the Think Pacific building project at Gau Secondary. Over the past 8 weeks the whole team has contributed their humbling efforts and time into creating this new staff room for the secondary school. Through rain and shine, the team has looked to get the job done and this final week offered the opportunity to finally step back and admire their outstanding efforts. Robyn designed a team logo and with the help of her TP sister, Jess, they set to work on painting this logo on the front door, outlining Gau Island with everyone’s name within. After a morning of tidying the build site and an eventfully journey for the boys carrying the tool box down the hill, our building project here in Gau was finished and ready for use!

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The community of Gau Secondary invited the team up on Friday afternoon for an opening ceremony. With the headmaster and school talatala donating their kind words and humbling gratitude to the whole team, it was a special occasion whereby the guys got to see the reason why they worked so hard over the weeks in getting the staff room complete. Once leader Rob had cut the cake and the Ratu (chief) had cut the ribbon, the new staff room was officially opened!

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After a dress rehearsal the previous night, the team presented their Mekes (traditional Fijian dance) to the school. The TP girls offered a flawless rountine, much to the delight of the Fijians, while the boys offered a rather more ‘unique’ stance on the traditional war dance, but had everyone in hysterics. After the school boys returned the favour by presenting a Meke to the team and the school singing the farewell song ‘isa isa,’ the team joined the teachers and parents for one last time for some tea and cakes.

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We finished the night with a farewell party at Gau Secondary with all the teachers and villagers from Nawaikama. Our time at Gau Secondary was beyond what any of us could have ever imagined and with it being the first ever TP project to visit a secondary school, both the team and Gau have set the bar very high!

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Gau Team – Farewell to Nawaikama Primary and Kindergarten Schools

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Nawaikama Primary school has offered some incredible moments for the whole team and after a spectacular 8 weeks of teaching, sports coaching and extra-curricular activities at NDS, our time with the children has unfortunately come to an end.

Kindi finished with the now famous kindi party, which had all the kids as well as all the volunteers dancing and singing their way through the morning in true kindi fashion! With the guys decorating the classroom and offering new games for the kids to play, it was a fitting end to the team’s time in kindergarten. Everyone has entered the kindi fortress at some point during the expedition so it really has been a team effort in educating and elevating the youngsters of Nawaikama. Songs including ‘baby shark na na na na na,’ ‘kindi what is your profession?’ and ‘this is how we do it,’ will certainly have a lasting legacy in kindi and will certainly keep the kids entertained even after the volunteers have left.

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A similar story prevailed in the primary school classrooms with all the team desperate to spend time with all the kids. The last week was spent focusing on exams and thus helping the kids on doing the best they can during their examinations. With the kids revising, it was a nice opportunity to help go over difficult topics and areas that the kids struggled with. After working so hard with the school, it was nice to see the kids using the lessons from the volunteers to help them revise! The final afternoon at NDS saw the school go the extra mile in putting on an incredible feast after each class had said a unique and special farewell to the team. From songs and poems to speeches and mekes, the efforts put in by the children reflected how much they enjoyed and appreciated the volunteers’ presence over the 8 weeks. The children also wrote farewell cards and posters for all the volunteers individually, providing some extremely special and personal souvenirs for the guys.

So to all the children, teachers and parents at NDS, thank you so much for such a unique and unforgettable experience!


Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Teaching at Gau Secondary School by Amy

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Gau Secondary School has become a familiar setting for us volunteers. Having lived with the teachers for 4 weeks before moving to the village, it feels like returning home whenever we walk the 20 minute journey along a single track surrounded by beautiful Fijian forest from the village up to the school.

The school is the only secondary on the whole of Gau Island, so around half of the students walk in each morning from our village of Naiwakama or further villages whilst the other half board at the school compound. By the time us volunteers ascend the steps approaching the classrooms at 9am, the school day is already well under way, with the boarders also having already completed morning duties which may have included cleaning or cutting the grass (with machete’s.. it’s harder than it sounds!) Having chosen the lessons we each want to teach or assist in, we headed for the classrooms to mould some young minds (in our own unique TP way).

A typical Fijian school day can consist of a mix of all the subjects you’d expect, as well as some conversational Hindi, commerce, Fijian or agriculture. My favourite is science, so having nervously spent the night before planning, I headed to the science labs to teach some chemistry and biology. Now, I don’t know if singing Justin Bieber lyrics is the conventional way of teaching redox chemical reactions to a bunch of Fijian sixth formers, but it somehow seemed to work and I was almost bursting with pride as by the end of the lesson they were happily balancing away whilst humming to a bit of Biebs.

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Next was biology, and if a Kaivalagi (Fijian term for European) stood on a chair pretending to pee with a diagram of the kidneys and urinary system stuck to me doesn’t scream ‘remember this in your exam’ then I don’t know what does! The bell then rang for recess which in England would have meant packing your bag as quickly as possible and running out the classroom, however to my shock the students actually asked for the lesson to carry on. This was the first of many experiences I had of the students being so grateful for their education and so keen to learn. I was also overwhelmed by the politeness and care shown by the students; every day I would put my bag on the floor and talk to the students only to turn and find my bag placed on the desk and a student holding out a chair and chalk for me. It’s clear that although the students don’t have much in the way of possessions or resources, they are still happier and keener to learn than any other students I’ve met before. At first quite shy, the students over time became more and more confident and their kind and funny personalities soon shone through, with many now becoming our good friends.

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The weeks I’ve spent in Gau Secondary have become some of my favourites of the whole expedition with highlights including learning to sew blankets in home economics, teaching English, learning some more Fijian language, baking cupcakes in cookery class, doing experiments with science classes, teaching English songs in music class and learning Fijian ones in return, but mainly just hanging out with some of the most funny and friendly people I’ve ever met. It was a genuine case of them teaching us just as much as we taught them and I’m so grateful to the Secondary for having us.

By Amy

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

Gau Island team trek to the waterfalls

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An Exercise in Mortality; By an Honorary London Gal:

The matter of how “country” I am is a bit of a grey area. Growing up in West Sussex, an hour south of London and an hour north of Brighton, up until I went to university I considered myself pretty cosmopolitan. My town has a Mc Donalds, and what could loosely be coined a by-pass. That makes me a townie, right? Apparently, wrong. To my West London friends at Uni, the fact I owned wellies for reasons other than festivals, and god forbid, had dog poo bags still in my pac-a-mac pockets, I was as “country” as a cream tea. I embraced this new found connection to nature, and put up with the subsequent three years of manure-and-tractor based teasing.

What’s all this got to do, however, with week 7 in Fiji? Well, thanks to my reinforced belief that nature and I were on a level, when rumours of a trek went round at the start of the week, I barely gave the notion any thought. Trek? More like a glorified walk. Nothing my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh awarded self couldn’t handle.
When the day came, an increasingly rare cloudless morning in this rainy season, I suncreamed up, actually undid and re-tied my trainers rather than pulling them on, and ate four buns for breakfast. ‘Come at me, Gau,’ I thought, ‘do your worst.’ I had a camera, and unshakeable self-belief.

It didn’t last long. After walking up to the school for our starting point, the first half hour was a near vertical (and at some points, I’m pretty sure actually vertical) ascent up a pine-clad ridge. It was less ‘tropical rainforest’, more ‘greek island’. Pine needles crunching underfoot and the most breathtaking views accompanied us as we huffed and puffed our way up to the fringe of the jungle.

This where it all (unfortunately only metaphorically) started going downhill. Here’s what I learnt, very quickly, about the beautiful Fijian mountains: The only way to survive the mud slopes is to basically snow-plough, spiders with bodies the same size and colour as green grapes do not like to be disturbed, and vines should never, ever be trusted. Ed likened me, in the nicest possible way, to the step-mother in The Parent Trap during the hiking scene, and that was the moment I realized; Damn. London got to me.

A wild dog chase, litres of sweat and an almost-tantrum later, we came to our first stop off point. Through all the jungle that was doing its best to kill me, an oasis. A clear stream, fast moving but shallow, provides the school and village with prawns, and a couple of the Kai Wai (Water clan) Mummas were there with snorkels, collecting basketfuls of the meatiest crustaceans I’ve ever tasted.  We ate our packed lunches here; cassava, fish and paw paw.

Onwards and undoubtedly, upwards we went, this time wading towards a promised waterfall. This being a mountain stream, the bed was rocky and very uneven, and to any onlookers I would’ve looked like I was staggering home at closing time, so awful was my balance. Despite the sheer concentration it took to maintain my footing, I managed to appreciate the scenery surrounding me, the most vivid green flora, rocks slick with red algae and shallow rapids stirring the translucent water. After another hour, we heard the waterfall before we saw it. Water cascaded down from a good 10 metres into the plunge pool which was deep and cool. We all jumped in and let the thundering water pummel our aching limbs. Suddenly the whole trek was worth it; the bruised ankles, the precarious mud paths giving way to crevasses, the sweat. This was Fiji, and it was beautiful.

They say you should do one thing every day that scares you. Little did I know that on Thursday morning, what I was expecting to be nothing more than a “one hour” walk in the forest would push me harder than anything on this trip thus far. Collapsing through the door back in my village home eight hours later (that’s Fiji time for you) I was filled with a sense of achievement, pride, and a strong desire for a shower and some cocoa.

It is one thing to look at the stars, but another to want to be an astronaut. It’s the same with nature. I’ll keep reading my National Geographics, but I think I’ve filled my jungle quota for life.  I may not be a full city-girl, but I think it’s safer if I stick to chartered territory for now.


Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Nawaikama – A day well spent

Last Friday, I woke up looking forward to another morning painting when Essex (Tom T) found me and offered me a day with his dad Soala collecting phosphates for his farm at the secondary school. We were going to a small island made entirely of coral just off the village of Lovo on Gau’s southern tip. Tubs (Toby) also came along. We left Nawaikama bay at half 8 and arrived at Levuka, Soala’s home village by 9 where we collected some cassava and firewood; we slowly began to realise that we were doing more than collecting phosphates.

Next we visited Lovo and dropped off Rupeni, a local 19 year old who attends Gau Secondary School, and waited for him to pick up his fishing equipment. Soala took us line fishing whilst Rupeni was collecting his things and with the sun on our backs and full view of Gau islands’ impressive mountains,  he told us that we were going spear fishing in the coral reef; a once in a lifetime opportunity for a Think Pacific volunteer. With our excitement mounting we travelled to the small coral island through turquoise waters and vibrant marine wildlife surrounding us.

Once we arrived it was a quick stop to drop off our things and to take a few pictures and then back out on the boat to go spear fishing. Essex went first, followed by Tubs and then myself. Whilst Rupeni managed to catch a remarkable array of different tropical fish, including a puffer fish, our success was somewhat more limited at zero… collectively. Despite our poor achievement on the fishing front we all thoroughly enjoyed our morning.

From there our day only got better, walking back across the tiny island’s white sandy beach the smell of cooking hit us. Soala’s wife and a few other women that had come with us had spent the morning preparing some cassava, dalo and yam which we ate while waiting for Rupeni’s fish to be cooked. To pass the time Soala climbed a coconut tree and fetched a few bu (pronounced mbu, a young coconut which contains a sweet juice) for us.  We then walked about 3 minutes to the other end of the island to see the light house and feeling rather Jack Sparrow-esque, headed back towards the smell of fresh fish cooked in lemon and chilli. It was, as expected, delicious, helped by the fact that the fish had been swimming around in the coral only half an hour before we ate them.

With the afternoon setting in we collected the phosphates for Soala, 15 sacks of soil and bird droppings from the island floor, this was slightly less enjoyable than the spear fishing but nevertheless we still had a good time, made even better by Soala’s frequent jokes. Upon leaving we drank more bu and visited Lovo and Levuka respectively en route and finally dropped anchor in Nawaikama’s picturesque bay at about 5 o’clock. A day well spent indeed.

From Alex.