Archive for September, 2011

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

A Special Fijian Birthday for Mary Elizabeth!

Memphis' Birthday (2)

19th birthdays are always a special occasion but to celebrate a birthday in a Fijian village is something not everyone is lucky enough to do!

This was the case on Thursday last week for Mary Elizabeth (from now on known by the team in Fiji as Memphis).

After returning from teaching and sports coaching, Memphis’s family did an incredible job of getting her impressively dressed in traditional Fijian masi. A custom, which anyone celebrating their special day in Fiji, is honoured to wear! Suitably dressed in true Fijian style, Memphis was ready to sit at the head of the table as a massive feast was laid on for her celebration.

With everyone enjoying a magnificent meal, which the village women had spent all day preparing, it was then time for the guitars to come out for some well-deserved grog and hop hop.

Everyone loves to dance but it seems no-one more so than our very own Bertie and Ollie who had the Fijians in fits of laughter with their moves! Clearly a pair to watch for in the future, when the teams are invited to Fijian parties across the island in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Building the dreams of Wawa

Wawa Dreams (2)

As the Think Pacific team begin another huge building project on Moturiki Island, and our volunteers get ready for lots of hard work ahead, we thought it would be a great opportunity to provide some background into the community of Wawa and the dreams and aspirations of the local people, which has led Think Pacific to finally bring a team to this tiny and remote village.

In the lead up to this project, several people in the UK asked me why we have been tasked to create a community hall for a village of such small proportions? With just six families residing in Wawa today, this does on the face of it, seem an unusual objective.  But as I believe with so many dreams, you sometimes have to go a little deeper to understand the reasoning and passion behind the ambition.

Think Pacific’s projects are planned with such a unique, careful and detailed process of dialogue, planning and prioritisation with the communities, the Provincial Council and several departments of the Ministry in Fiji that it takes many years from a project being first conceived by the village and government to our actual funding and realization.  Each project goes through a series of tests to ensure it meets the requirements of our core aims; to ease poverty issues, to increase opportunity, to respect Fijian culture and to achieve development that would be otherwise inconceivable and unobtainable for Fijian people themselves. This building project meets all of these objectives and so much more.

Wawa Dreams (3)

The disappearance of a once mighty village

It’s hard to believe today, but Wawa was once the largest working village on the entire island.  Whilst Wawa may have just six families living there at this time, they technically have the largest overall population of the nine neighbouring communities.

Moturiki and Wawa also have an immense history and are renowned archaeological sites. In fact the oldest human skeleton ever found in Fiji (dating back almost 3000 years!) was found close by to the village settlement.  

A small village Wawa may be today, but it is one of the oldest and most important in Fijian history. And there are more people in Fiji today who call this village their traditional home than anywhere else in the whole region!

Due to the limited facilities and opportunities provided by the village, over the years this has sadly led to one of the major indicators of poverty in Fiji, the rural-urban drift from the poor and traditional communities to the towns of Fiji’s mainland.  This is an issue the Fijian Council and elders regard as devastating for the future survival of these ancient villages.

Wawa Dreams (1)

The return of extended family

During the long school holidays, at Easter, at Christmas and during Fijian National Holidays, many of the community return from the mainland back to their traditional home of Wawa, with no shelter and nowhere to gather.

Over these periods, the hall in Wawa shall be in use every single day, for a huge array of purposes. It shall provide housing for the villagers, as they currently sleep on the church floor or in temporary and flimsy shelters, it shall be where the community eat, it shall be where services are held and it shall be where visitors are greeted and ceremonies performed.  Therefore, whilst Wawa may be the smallest village, the hall itself is more valuable and will receive more use during these frequent times of concentrated population, than in any other hall on the whole island.

Fijian Culture

The centre of Fijian society

Within Fijian villages the Church and the Hall are the two most important buildings, indeed a ‘community hall’ means so much more than it does in the west.  Fijian society is entirely based upon communal living, sharing, and ceremonial customs. Aspects of culture are slowly being eroded in the villages, where the ability of the whole community to live as one and continue their subsistence life is hindered by a lack of appropriate facilities. The hall provides this vital and sole communal space and in so doing, provides an opportunity for the culture, customs and traditional life to thrive.

A community hall in Fiji provides a vital space for every communal activity; it is the central focus of the society. Whilst the bigger villages on the islands may have the capacity to host weddings, funerals, services, ceremonies and feasts, the smaller villages do not. With just six families in Wawa, any group or gathering places such a huge burden upon the community. The community hall shall forever alleviate this burden, and whilst they may be the smallest village, the people of wawa are extremely keen that their size should not cripple them as a community, as they play a full part in island activities such as church gatherings, chiefly visits, weddings, funerals and combined services.

It is a place which the Ministry have specifically requested, to be able to undertake training workshops, to host visiting doctors and temporary clinics, to enable youth groups, women’s groups and kindergarten to flourish, as all hope, the village population increases in time with the increase in community development.  

Importantly it will also serve a very practical safety measure against natural disaster; A hurricane shelter for the village. It is a priority of the Fijian Ministry to enable at least one safe and structurally sound building capable of withstanding cyclones to be present in every community.  It was only last year, when Hurricane Tomas ripped through the Fiji Islands, and our community hall in Nasauvuku village was tested to the maximum as the entire village sheltered within. We were all relieved to see that the hall passed its greatest test with flying colours and whilst many houses were damaged, our hall stayed strong and in perfect condition.

Wawa Dreams (4)

The first step to fresh water

There are two major infrastructure projects planned for Wawa; the creation of this hall and the development of an improved water source for the village.  Initially, in the early meetings with Wawa, Think Pacific was keen to assist with the water project first.  However, Wawa prioritised the community hall first, demonstrating its importance to their village life. Taking into account the inability of generations to provide a community building, this became Think Pacific’s project, with the water being investigated instead by our partners at the Lomaiviti Council and the Fijian Ministry.

The decision was reinforced by the Ministry that the hall must come first. The water tanks donated by Think Pacific require a solid structure as their base and the architectural plans that best suit their implementation are for these giant water tanks to be placed at the ends of large, structurally approved building. The piping donated by Think Pacific will next be plumbed across the sides of the hall and brought down into the community. The villagers shall then look to bring the water to each individual home from this central source.  This is therefore, the first stage to completing two vital infrastructure aims, the central community facility, followed by piped water into each home in Wawa.

Wawa Dreams (5)

A Fijian dream

A key aspect to Think Pacific’s projects is realizing the dreams of communities and assisting with development that would otherwise be entirely beyond them. The villagers of Wawa have dreamed of a community building in their village for generations. It is not the be all and end all of preventing the drifting of a society from their traditional homes, but it provides the biggest foundation for hope, further development and the future of this once mighty village. It is through the funding and support of our volunteer team that this dream will be realized.

Aside from the extended family spread far and wide across Fiji, there are probably few people who give much thought to Wawa village today. Its history and traditions are almost lost, its people struggle on quietly, in a far corner of a remote tropical island. And it would have been easy for Think Pacific to pass by this village all too easily. A few families from Wawa wouldn’t have caused much of a fuss if their ambitions had been missed in the development plans for the region, and we could have visited a larger community instead, one which would not have posed as much of a challenge. However, Think Pacific reaches out to every single member of Moturiki. We are passionate about contributing to real issues and impacting on the daily lives of all who reside here, even the smallest villages in the most logistically challenging of locations. Think Pacific believe that being small should not mean that you are ever forgotten.

When we told the community last year that Think Pacific would achieve this project for Wawa, the villagers were in tears of joy. They held a feast in honour of a team that would one day arrive.  This week, our volunteers did indeed arrive and the building of Wawa community hall began. The village have welcomed the team with open arms and we’ve seriously never seen a village work so hard in the preperation for one of our teams ever before!

In just eight weeks’ time, after some immense dedication from our volunteers, we look forward to welcoming the Fijian Ministry, Chiefs, friends, family and villagers back to Wawa for a huge party to celebrate the completion of this magnificent achievement.

Vinaka September team!

Simon, Harry and the TP team.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Photos from the Fiji Islands

Here are some great photos from our team over in Fiji, with pictures taken during their castaway island briefing and also during their first week of volunteering and village life in their new Fijian home of Wawa Village! You click each picture to view a larger version and as their experience continues, we’ll also be posting all of their photos onto the Think Pacific Facebook Page:

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Gap Year Expedition Update: The First Week in Wawa Village!

Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (2) Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (1)

After a few relaxing days on the beautiful castaway island of caqalai, it was time for the team to pack their bags and make the short boat trip across to Moturiki and the village of Wawa, which our volunteers will call home for the next 8 weeks. As can be expected there were a few nerves among the team with this being some of their first time spent away from home let alone a remote Fijian village.

Most of those nerves were soon settled though as our 2 boats made the slow journey through the mangroves to be met with a warm welcome from the community and members of neighboring villages.  Even though Wawa consists of only 6 houses the team couldn’t have been made feel more welcome if there had been 50. After a short prayer and welcome speech from the villagers it was time to unpack and settle in with their new Fijian families.

Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (9)

Already it was clear to see the excitement in the eyes of the villagers as they led their new sons and daughters off home. None more so than Osia, when he took our four boys to what is now known as the “bachelor pad.” The rest of the day was spent getting to know everyone and finding their way around the village.

Wawa currently have no communal space at all for the village to meet or host guests, a huge issue for a Fijian society, where traditional life is based upon accommodating visitors and extended family and performing traditional ceremonies, so in true Fijian style a simple ‘shed’ was constructed by the village elders for the many communal feasts, customs and traditions ahead. There was also a basic kitchen erected for everyone to eat together. The work that went into creating these temporary structures from bamboo shows just how much it means to the village to have the team here and also the need for a permanent community facility, which the team will soon be assisting the village to create.

Moturiki District School (Wawa Sep 11 Project)

On Tuesday everyone made what will be the daily trek across to school and kindergarten (kindi), where our volunteers will teach both alongside the current teachers and also take classes on their own as well as leading youth clubs, organising art, drama and music and organising a huge programme of sports coaching. This gave them a taste of what to expect when project starts on Wednesday, and it was clear to see some of the volunteers couldn’t wait to get started!

The first Rota was then decided on Tuesday night with Angela, Oliver, Robert and Will choosing to get their hands dirty on the build. Amy, Sarah, Polly and Lucy deciding to brave what can only be called the mayhem of kindi and Johnny (Class 4) Charlotte (class 6) and Mary Elizabeth (Classes 7&8) taking on the huge role of teaching primary school lessons.  All the team will be involved in the sports and youth club projects in the afternoons.

Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (5)

Under the watchful eye of Jack ‘the bulldozer’ Whippy, our building manager, everyone got off to a flying start digging all 28 holes needed for the support posts for the floor, with the traditional ceremony being held in the afternoon for the concreting of the first post. Over the next two days all the rest of the posts were set in place along with the two large strengthening posts which help carry the load of the roof. This left the build well on schedule for the first three days.

Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (4) Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (3)

In school it was as if our three volunteers had been at the head of a classroom for some time as they threw themselves into taking certain subjects on their own from day one. With such a wide variety of skill and knowledge among the team this project is certain to be of great benefit to the kids of MDS.

Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (6)

When Saturday came around it was time for some of the team to live the true Fijian lifestyle with a few heading up into the jungle plantations to farm for crops, and some of the girls heading out to reefs for spear fishing. Thankfully we weren’t totally dependent on the result of the fishing trip for our weekend’s food! But the group did manage to catch four very good sized fish all the same, which were fried for that night’s dinner! Sunday as ever is Sabbath in a Fijian village and a day of rest for the team, which is only too welcome after a very busy first week on Moturiki Island!

Gap Year Fiji Week 1 (8)

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Meet Anna at the Epsom College Gap Year Fair!

Meet Anna at the ISCO Gap Year Fair!

In January 2011, Anna Hurley, who attended Epsom College, undertook a gap year expedition to the Fiji Islands with Think Pacific and spent 10 weeks living and volunteering in Yanuca village, Moturiki.

As part of the first ever gap year team lucky enough to visit this tiny and traditional Fijian community, Anna played a key role as a volunteer. Her group completed building projects within Yanuca, taught English in Moturiki School, organised sports coaching and youth clubs and helped to establish a kindergarten programme for the under-five’s.

Anna then headed off to explore even further on her gap year, including travelling through South America and Asia. 

This is the first time that Anna has been back to her old school since departing sixth form and we’re delighted that she will be heading back as a representative of Think Pacific and sharing some of her stories and memories with the next generation of Fiji volunteers!

Anna said  “I recently got back from the rest of my travels after Fiji and I have to say nothing topped my experience in Yanuca! I had a fantastic time on the second part of my travels but I think it just reinforced how good Fiji was! I miss the village so much and am already looking forward to the day when I will have enough money to go back.

I keep looking on the TP website as I love hearing all the news of the current projects. It does fill me with great jealousy though! Especially the ones who are teaching at Moturiki District School”

Here is a fabulous blog, which Anna wrote about her Gap Year Volunteering Experiences in Fiji.

The gap year fair takes place on Tuesday 27th September from 16.30 – 18.00 and is organised by ISCO Futurwise. This free gap year event provides students with lots of gap year advice, volunteering ideas and inspiration. If you’ll be attending, then please feel free to stop by and speak to Anna and she’ll be delighted to tell you more about her gap year adventures!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

September 2011 Gap Year Team: A huge project ahead for our gap year volunteers!

Gap Year Fiji September 2011 Briefing (14)

Last Thursday was the start of our final Think Pacific Gap Year Expedition of 2011. And everyone is determined to make this the best expedition of the year so far! 

Our fabulous team of 11 volunteers, who hail from as far and wide as England, Scotland, Germany and the USA all arrived last week and have spent their first few days enjoying their castaway Island briefing.

Our gap year team have been tasked by the Fijian Government to visit the tiny community of Wawa on Moturiki Island. Here they will be creating a community centre for the village, a structure, which will be started and finished within just the next eight weeks through lots of hard work, team work and new found building skills!  This building project, which is funded completely by Think Pacific and led by our team of building managers and carpenters, will be a focus of change in the community, creating a space to host visitors, perform traditional ceremonies, as well as a place for island meeting, future youth clubs, kindergarten classes, homework classes and workshops by the Ministry of Health. 

This exciting gap year project is so important. It starts the first sensitive and locally directed phase of community development for the village, which was designed by the community many years ago. The hope is that with more adequate facilities, generations of villagers will continue to stay in the rural communities and continue their traditional lives here, rather than being forced to have to leave their homes for the towns and better facilities of Fiji’s mainland.

This building project will be completed, alongside leading a huge program of teaching, youth and sports development initiatives for the Fijian children.  The primary school is a huge trek away from the village and the volunteers will have quite an adventure each day walking through rainforests and the reef wall to organise youth clubs and sports projects across this dense and tropical island.

Wawa is the only village on Moturiki never to have been visited by Think Pacific (or indeed any other group of tourists or volunteers before), so it is simply incredible that our gap year team will be able to call this traditional community ‘home’ and such a privilege for Think Pacific to be asked to lead a project here.  The villagers have been patiently waiting for over 4 years since their development plans were submitted, and now, finally a team will be visiting to realize their ambitions.

The villagers are so excited for the team’s arrival!  And with the sun shining and blue skies for our volunteer’s arrival on Caqalai Island, the team can’t wait to begin their Fiji Gap Year!


Gap Year Fiji September 2011 Briefing (13)