Our February team are now well and truly settled into life on their beautiful Fijian island. Yavu feels like a second home. It felt like this from the second we all set foot on Batiki.
You’d be mistaken for thinking our team of 11 volunteers have always been a part of this community. They spend their days working hard on the building project, where jokes, smiles and music complete the atmosphere of teamwork achievement and satisfaction. Our volunteers take it in turns to plan and lead lessons within the tiny wooden primary school, control the mayhem that is kindergarten class in the morning and inspire huge games and sports competitions on the palm tree lined rugby pitch.
The team leisurely go from house to house, laughing with their Fijian neigbours, helping ‘mum and dad’ with the daily chores of island life - cooking, washing clothes by bucket, spear fishing and farming. The Fijian women have been in their element on the food front – baking cakes for everyone to enjoy on the beach and feasts which could feed a thousand hungry Fijian men. In the afternoon, the guys pound yaqona for the evening Fijian parties and practise their guitars for some island style music to accompany the dancing. We’ve already had two huge celebrations, with both Charlotte and Grace’s Birthdays, both resulting in some fun evenings, complete the cakes, presents and Fiji style entertainment!
The arrival into Yavu was a huge moment indeed. The people of Batiki lined the shore eagerly awaiting for our volunteers to sail into their beach side community. Our excited group arrived by tiny motor boats, slowly cutting through the Pacific Ocean, navigating the reefs and lagoon. It was a clear and relatively calm crossing but a long one all the same. And always an adventure from our castaway island to the outer island villages of the Lomaiviti. Now the bigger adventure begins, It was finally time to experience traditional Fijian life and for the team to meet their families.
Think Pacific performed a Sevu Sevu, a traditional Fijian custom and welcome ceremony as we presented a gift of Yaqona roots to the Ratu (chief) and we were formally embraced as part of the village. Naturally lots of kava drinking and Fijian dancing and feasting followed! A welcome into a Fijian village is always a very special and humbling moment and with Grace’ birthday falling on the arrival day, the village made sure it was a birthday to remember!
Life on Batiki started with an orientation, time to meet all the excited children and mountains of smiling faces with a visit to the local primary school and kindergarten. The team walked along the white sandy beaches, played in the lagoon and explored the village and surrounding jungle. They talked through the aims of the building objectives and sports and youth ideas flowed as the volunteers decided which volunteering project they would like to start first.
The first couple of days are always new, exciting and nervous for every team. But adjusting to life at the heart of a traditional village and living in the homes of the Fijian families has been easy. The warmth of the villagers and the Fijian hospitality and kindness is always astounding. The passion, which the local people hold for the team’s arrival into their community and the excitement for the project aims ahead, make for an incredible atmosphere. Villagers trekked far and wide from other settlements on the island to visit and chat to our team.
Each evening has been very busy, with big communal evening meals, where the whole village gather to eat and chat. Spear fishing is soon on the agenda too as well as cooking sunday lunch in the Lovo (underground earth oven). Fun team activities such as quiz nights, beach bonfires, star gazing, sports and hop hop have been a staple part of the team experience. The village organised a Fijian mat weaving night and the hall was full to bursting with village ladies, men and kids who came to join in and teach the volunteers some traditional island skills.
The building objective is to create improved and healthy sanitation for the community by installing toilet blocks and wash facilities to replace the existing and extremely basic infrastructure. After talking through the plans with our building team, our volunteers started early, getting straight to work digging the foundations ready for the septic tanks and the cemented wall that will follow.
In School, the first week saw Laura in class 1&2, Maggie work with class 5&6 and Ben with class 7&8. The aim in week one is to work with the teachers as classroom assistants and offer personal tuition to children as they improve their English. Class 7 was much more of a challenge, with a teacher missing (delayed from a boat journey from the mainland), the headmaster asked ben to take 7&8 entirely on his own. Ben rose to the challenge and did an outstanding job, as did Laura and Maggie, who now have a passionate and growing fan base from the Fijian children on the island.
Charlotte, Tanita, Grace and Una started their volunteering in the kindergarten. This school, which Think Pacific built and established last year is going from strength to strength with so many eager children now taking part each morning. There were introductions, games, songs, story time and lots of excitement and energy from the young ones as our volunteers started their project. The school is now running so well and the local Fijian volunteers have established a fabulous routine. Our girls began brilliantly and with ideas brainstormed for next week, we hope to introduce lots of new elements to the programme.
Sports began pretty much immediately. With a glorious playing field in front of the village and school, the team were straight away playing with the kids and organising rugby, netball, rounders and football. Fijian children have an unbelievable passion for sports and the volunteers made an instant impression. With coaching sessions planned every afternoon in the village, we will be helping to develop new sports skills and structured PE lessons as well as preparing for some immense island rugby and netball matches and tournaments.
It’s been a great start to Fijian life. With so many more volunteer projects ahead and activities to enjoy on Batiki Island, we look forward to a huge few weeks ahead. Moce from Fiji!