The Think Pacific gap year team of April 2012 have now left beautiful Mua village. They have left behind the smiling faces, new found friends and Fijian family, which our volunteers now count as their own. Enjoying beers by the Beach House, lazing in hammocks by the Pacific Ocean and enjoying their final ever week as a team is an awesome way to end, but the memories of Batiki Island; the people, the culture, the unique customs and the kaiviti way is what makes the Fiji Islands the greatest place on earth. And these are the memories that will be most vivid when the team tell stories back home of their Fijian adventures.
Here are all the highlights, from the past couple of weeks, which has seen so many incredible achievements and unique Fijian experiences. It’s going to be hard to do it justice in one blog post!
Having been part of village life for six weeks now home doesn’t feel far away. Every week we spend with our families the closer we become and the village of Mua sits deeper in our hearts. Time here seems different altogether; all of a sudden we have only two weeks left as part of this amazing community. Where does time go on project? The days simply fly by.
Heading into week 7 we have begun preparations for the fun day and opening ceremony of the community hall. Brainstorming ideas for stalls and activities to be held before the ceremony, we hope to do our families proud in contributing to one of the biggest days in Mua’s recent history.
In terms of the community hall, we are a matter of days from completion and it is almost time to pull out the paint brushes. This week Grace, Hannah, Thom, Ben and James have knocked the windows together, Henry and Matt dug and cemented the steps while Kaitlyn, Sam, Fiona, Nat and Harriette are a few pieces from finishing the flooring.
The Kindi has itself a new garden made from lolly sticks and card as of this week. Rachel, Thom, Natasha and Rupert have got extra creative with the children. Filling their garden with a vegetable patch and flowers, they have the place looking great. Friday, the guys lead a space themed day and the children had a ball making rockets.
On the house competition front, our leaders have decided to hold the decision of this week’s photography and public speaking until the finals day in week eight, keeping things in suspense. On request from the Fijian teachers the guys have been on a one week rota in school. Molly has had a phenomenal week, her creative writing lessons have been a huge hit with the children. Every student in class 5 & 6 has created a 7 page, illustrated book, entitled: What I would do if I was the president of Fiji for one day.
Rob has had a big impact on bringing the ability levels of those in class 4 closer together; spending time working closely with those who are a little behind has paid dividends. Emily has dived head first into working with class 1 and 2 and gave it her all. It is great to see how she communicates with the children and how they respond exceptionally well to her fun approach to teaching. Witnessing Euan’s confidence grow day by day has been a testament to his motivation to succeed in school. He has done a great job in class 7 and 8, especially with their understanding of multiplying and dividing fractions.
Tuesday night was again a chance for the volunteers to build up their souvenir collection with the volunteers being treated to a Fijian bracelet making session. The women from the village had their work cut out as bracelets proved a popular choice with the team. Wednesday was taken up by the quiz night with the losing team from week 1 becoming the quiz master’s, some interesting questions from Rupert added to a fun filled evening for the team.
The 3rd spear fishing trip took place on Thursday evening with Harriette, Fiona, Rupert and Ben taking to the water, again it proved an amazing experience for the guys and certain to be an obvious memory from their time spent in Fiji. The working week ended with the villagers again throwing a beach bonfire, an amazingly chilled out night for both the villagers and the team. However it couldn’t be a Friday without their being grog and hop hop and this was no exception.
The team spent Saturday on their 2nd trek of the expedition, led by some of the village boys the team climbed up the peak, passing some of the villager’s plantations, signaling the effort they put in to ensure the village have food on the table. When the team reached the top they were treated to some breathtaking views of the whole island which is now our home from home. Later on that day the team was taken out net fishing with the villagers, it was a tiring but amazing experience which will make Sunday lunch taste that extra bit nicer eating the fish we helped catch. Friday afternoon the volunteers were treated to a well earned rest, reward not only for their tremendous work but also used to refresh the guys for the huge end to the project, with only 2 weeks left we’re going to need all the energy we can get!
This week couldn’t have got off to a better start, as the volunteers brought down the house in Sundays church service, indicating just how keen the team are to make the most of their remaining time here. The guys attended rehearsals led by Natalie and Grace and at the service performed the hymn ‘shine Jesus shine’ , much to the delight of the villagers. A special mention must also go to Rupert for his bible reading in church.
Those who donned their smarts for school have in no way damaged their popularity amongst the children. In particular Ben, Rachel and Natasha who lead classes 1&2 with the teacher absent. Elsewhere Natasha has also assisted with class 3&4’s Math and English, Thom has had the imagination of class 5&6 running wild throughout his story writing lessons and 7&8 have been treated to a fantastic lesson on the negative effects that smoking has on the circulatory system by Rupert.
This week saw Harriette, Fiona and Natalie return to kindi with Euan and Rob taking on the role for the first time. Again the volunteers were outstanding when delivering the daily routine; the spiders they made with the young ones have been an all time kindi favourite.
The toolbox has only been open briefly this week, the only use for the hammer and nails have been to construct a new storage box and toys for kindi. Matt and Ian have proudly carried their box down to Yavu and Ewan is set to be playing with his shape familiarization toy with the children during his second stint in kindi next week. Having put the tools down, the paint brushes have been in full flow. The team has given the hall its two undercoats leaving just the final coat on the inside and out to do in our final week.
A new chapter of the house cup began this week in the shape of house debating. The children had to argue their points of view on ‘whether secondary education should be paid for by the government’. The team worked extremely hard and fined tuned the pupils into producing some excellent arguments. Resulting in Vono’s first win in the house cup, taking the scores to 3-1 in loqo loqo’s favour. With 4 remaining competitions, it looks set to be an exciting finish.
We set off for our final trek after sports coaching on Monday, heading through Yavu and up to first rock we looked down on our village in the light of a truly breathtaking sunset. Albeit the heavens did open but our sprits it did not dampen, making use of the natural mud slide a few rested tired legs and made their way back down on their belly’s… Emily!
The villagers have helped us put the finishing touches to our very own hand-made souvenir collection of traditional fans, hats and bilo’s throughout the evenings. The working week ended on Thursday with it being the school fundraiser on Friday. Hosted by the villagers the sports pitch was surrounded by those from all around the island, bobbing in and out of sheds which played music, sold samosa’s and cups of tea. With speakers playing out Fijian reggae and children running all around there was a festival feel to the day. This set the stage for the days main events; the TP vs Batiki netball match and Mua/TP vs Rest of Batiki rugby match.
The sidelines cheered a plenty as competition brought out the best in the team, displaying the togetherness that has been throughout since our early days on Caqalai. The girls coming together to produce a sterling performance, trailing 5-2 at half time they fought for every ball, losing to a significantly more experienced Batiki team 8-3 and the Fijian ladies sang their praises. With talk of Natalie’s fine goal and the outstanding work by the two rocks at the heart of the TP defence, Rachel and Grace. As for the rugby, Ian’s meke, warrior dance reflected the passion the guys showed on the pitch. The TP boys lead the way and their family members of Mua followed. Thom and Ian laid the platform for James’ opening try taking Mua into an early 5-0 lead. This settled any early nerves, however the Rest of Batiki team hit back with a try shortly before half time leaving the score 5-5. The second half was no let up in terms of intensity, both teams had early opportunities to score tries, Ben denying Rest of Batiki with a try saving scurry into the in-goal area. Down the opposite end in last few minutes of time and the score still tied Thom slipped Ewan a neat pass for him to break away, with the crowd going wild only an exceptional try saving challenge dragged Euan down 5 metres short of snatching an enthralling victory for Mua. And so the match ended a draw.
Our final week in Mua village has had it all. Adding to our project activities of school, sports, kindi and build we have had the opening ceremony of the community hall, the fun day, the farewell church service, meke’s, house cup finals and farewell feasts. Blink and it would have been missed, such has been the craziness of the events this week.
The final week in school saw tremendous efforts from James, Kaitlyn, Molly and Fiona. Although it was only a 3 day week, the team wasted no time in making an impact. Kaitlyn’s solar system lessons in year 5&6 were exceptional and definitely a highlight from our time in school. James led a beneficial lesson to classes 3&4 on alphabetical order and Molly was praised for her assistance throughout the English, Maths and Science lessons in years 7&8. Fiona had her work cut out but managed to settle down the tireless year 1&2s to deliver phonics lessons on the ‘sh’ sound.
On the Friday afternoon the team were rewarded for their effort over the past 8 weeks, with a limitless amount of cakes and treats, prepared by the children’s mothers. The headmaster then followed with an emotional thank you speech. The paint had only just settled and already the villagers were around the build awaiting the finished product. A huge effort from the team saw the paint brushes and tins packed away and all that remained was the opening ceremony on Friday. The team’s logo added a personal touch, placed above the door it was a symbol of volunteer’s collective ideas and proved a real talking point amongst the village.
The children from kindi were treated this week, as the new games and puzzles were unleashed. The equipment introduced was the ideas of the volunteers and were bought using the money from the kindi fundraiser. Euan, Matt, Harriette, Emily and Natalie had the pleasure of opening the games to the little ones, who struggled in containing their excitement. The children have really benefitted from the volunteers involvement and their progression is clearly evident, the increase in attendance is also an indication, with 9 participants in week 1 improving to a regular 18 pupils in the final weeks.
The team accepted an invitation to visit Yavu village on Wednesday evening. Signaling the beginning of the end, the village hosted a farewell feast in the kindergarden, followed by grog and hop hop. It was a flattering evening for the team. It was an early rise Thursday morning as the village had prepared a huge surprise for the volunteers. The team was treated to a prestigious event called the Yavirou. This traditional style of Fijian fishing is regarded an annual event at Christmas and was used in preparation for the weekend to come.
Sadly this week with Sam feeling unwell and suffering from a fever, it was decided that a visit to the hospital would be the best option. Harry, and Ronnie (and also Kaitlyn who kindly wanted to stay by Sam’s side) all left to take Sam to the capital, Suva. It was a sad day to see Sam and Kaitlyn make an early departure from the village and to miss the final weekend. But the team would see them again at the resort stage and tell them all the stories of the final few days in Mua. (The whole team are now indeed back together and relaxing on the Coral Coast, with Sam feeling better after seeing the doctors and taking some much needed rest).
Back in the village, the community was a buzz of excitement. Preperations were underway and guests began arriving for the culmination of our gap year project and the opening of the magnificent hall. It really is astounding that such a building, which was no more than a piece of land and an idea on a paper eight weeks ago is now standing proud in the village, ready to be used on a daily basis by the community.
The community centre will now be the focus for every village activity, from homework classes for the children and evening youth clubs, to hosting training workshops by the Ministry and a temporary clinic by visiting doctors. Being the most stucturally sound building in Mua, it provides a vital facility to shelter from storms and to celebrate Fijian culture and village customs on a daily basis, to host guest and family returning for holidays and to celebrate births and marriages.
It’s always a central aim of every project to leave a legacy and our April team have certainly done just that and more. Every Think Pacific project ends with one final celebration, where the Fijian Ministry visit to see our progress and the tiny village, which is now our home, says one huge farewell to our volunteers for all their hard work. The weekend ahead was one for all to remember..
The Opening Ceremony!
Village life was put on hold for what was one the biggest days in Mua’s recent history on Friday afternoon. The opening of the community hall was the first duty of the newly installed island chief. And so, the whole island along with family members from the mainland gathered for a rare traditional ceremony.
To witness the original kava ceremony that has been part of the Fijian culture for hundreds of years was a once in a life time moment not only for the team but many villagers also. Following the first bowl in the new community hall the team where walked through a tunnel of applause into a feast. After which they returned to their home and awaited an escort from Fijian warriors with torches to attend the halls debut night of hop hop.
Saturday was the teams turn to host as they transformed the village into a mini festival for the fun day. Before opening the stalls the crowd gathered in the hall for house singing and speeches from the team. The house singing saw the children of Vono sing along to Rupert strumming ‘in the jungle’ and Logologo stomp their feet to ‘500 miles’. Speeches from the team gave each of them the opportunity to publicly thank their families for making their past eight week so hospitable. Out on the field, the team took to their stalls which sold cakes, pancakes, juice and activities included the coconut shy, penalty shoot out, sponge kerner, bat the rat and treasure hunt. After which the team performed their Meke to an enthusiastic audience. The day was a huge success, everyone having a ball of a time and raising $135 for the village of Mua.
All good things must come to an end and with emotions running high throughout the last 3 days it was easy to see how their wasn’t to be a dry eye in the entire village come Sunday.
The day started with the touching farewell service and the village had decided to respond to the volunteers speeches from the previous day. The families produced moving tributes about the team’s time here, leaving each volunteer in floods. The team pulled themselves together in order to perform “oh happy days” much to the delight of the church congregation, with Natalie and Fiona bringing the house down with their beautiful solos. The team again left teary eyed as they exited the church for one last time to the angel like voices of the village choir.
The expedition came to a finale with a memorable grog and hop hop session, ending at 7 o clock in the morning. And then it was time to board the boats and bid farewell to our adopted home and the island of BATIKI!
Vinaka Mua village for making the past eight weeks such a special experience.
Loloma, The tp team.