Past volunteers

Volunteer stories: Holly Stillwell

Holly Stillwell

As my Fijian experience comes to an end I have to say these 3 months have been the most unforgettable 3 months I’ve ever had.  This whole journey has been one big adventure for me and I’ve grabbed every opportunity to be Fijian with both hands and loved every second!  Fiji will always be special to me, its paradise and I love that I can call it home.

My time in the village is over and I look back and I think of all the amazing memories and experiences I have shared with the team and the new friends I made on Moturiki.  I have fallen in love with Naicabecabe and everyone there.  I know that everyone I met contributed to making my experience the best it could be.  I have been a part of the build, teaching and the kindi, I’m really glad I got involved with everything I could, I really wanted to make the most of it and I’ve left knowing I have, it couldn’t have been any better.  Leaving the village, knowing it was all coming to an end, was very difficult for all of us.  There were a lot of last moments, like last time at the school and last time working on the build etc.  I knew it was coming I just had to try hold back the tears and do it.

I taught in the school with Maria for the last 2 weeks of teaching at Nasauvuki.  The children from MDS put on a show for us and gave us all a lovely afternoon goodbye.  I have fallen in love with all of the children at the school.  When I saw Joeli (my brother) and Unaisi (my sis) in the play and singing songs I was so proud, like a proud older sister.  The leaving song, ‘Isa Think Pacific’ was incredible.  I was bawling like a baby listening to it and realising that I have done so much here, teaching in the class and teaching sports.  I will miss the school and the children very much.They are always so full of life and enthusiastic and I genuinely wish them all the luck in the world.

The time I have spent on the build has also been a highlight for me.  I think about all the hard work and team effort put into the community hall and walkway and I can’t help but smile.  It makes me so happy seeing the villagers happy with what we have done for them because at the end of the day we all went there for their needs, all that I’ve gained is a big bonus.  Getting up and going to work in the morning, working in a team with the Fijians and getting my hands dirty was what it was all about for me.  I loved it.  It was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life so I’m proud of myself.

The last Sabbath I had was one of the saddest days ever.  Everyone knew this time was coming, but it came so quickly and I wasn’t ready to leave people.  The final church service was emotional, I saw the women crying, knowing I had to read a speech soon and I couldn’t hold back the tears. 

Getting up to say my speech was so nerve-racking.  I wanted it to go well so much so that the village knew how much we as a team appreciate their hospitality for the last 9 weeks.  Telling Bis and the Ratu how thankful we were for everything they had done for us was hard, it was saying vinaka vakalevu to the village is what made my legs turn to jelly and my eyes well up.  That moment was when I thought, ‘oh my days, I’m actually leaving’.

Picking up my bag and saying goodbye to mine and Fi’s bed and saying goodbye to my house was heart breaking.  Not as much as saying goodbye to Peni, Una, Brother Mack, Joeli and Unaisi – my family.  Peni, my ta, has been the most amazing dad for the past 9 weeks.  Mummy Una worked hard to get money for her family during the week and Peni would stay and look after us and the kids.  Peni is such a good father to his kids, Joeli and Unaisi are so lucky to have a Ta like him. 

He took me Fi and Alice under his wing and I knew right from week one he was protective of us, always wanting to know what we are doing, and where we a going.  He also always made sure we ate enough which is probably why I’ve gained like a stone since I got here.  Peni’s famous catch phrase, ‘Kana va levu! Kana Kana!’.  Saying goodbye to him was heart wrenching, watching him cry broke my heart.  I had the same thing with Brother Mack, who is 24 and always so happy.  He eats chillies like sweets and they just don’t affect him even a little bit, I’d have one and be sitting there eyes and nose streaming, glugging down a jug of tang.  He said to me before I got on the boat, ‘Holly, you will always be my sister’.  It was a definite moment.

Saying goodbye to Joeli was so so hard.  He was one of the only younger children that knew what was going on and understood that we were leaving and won’t be back for years.  Joeli is such an amazing brother.  He always made sure that we were set, especially with tea and juice at meal times, he’s always in charge of refreshments.  He is such a cheeky boy, climbing mango trees with us, swinging around like a monkey and playing cards with us in the evening, I love him.  And then there’s Unaisi, or Shuna as some people liked to call her.  Her singing voice was quite special, like nothing I’ve ever heard (or wanted to hear) before.  At the time, when its 6 in the morning and I hear a Una special ‘Isa Think Pacific’ belted out at the top of her lungs, I would not wake up a happy bunny.  But since then, waking up has not been the same.  I do miss it in a really weird way.  Una is a little strange, pulling funny faces and jumping around a lot, she is amazing and so smart as well.  I love my family so much and leaving them was one of the hardest things for me to have to do.  They opened up their arms to me Alice and Fi and loved us like we were their own.  Spending time with the family has been a highlight and now after leaving I have realised how much I value those moments.

I have made friends with everyone on the island, it’s hard to name names.  I have had some unforgettable memories of being with the villagers, grog nights and special events and general day to day happenings, it’s all so special to me.  I will miss everyone so so much and it’s already weird not having certain people around to talk to which would already be there.  Bis, our matena vanua was a very good friend of mine, we talked a lot and I miss him being around already with his massive smile, hair and muscles.  Williame our cheeky Ratu and one of the funniest old men I’ve ever met.  He’s like 60 something and finding it hilarious to shine a torch in my eyes and grunt like a pig.  I love that man so much!  When he told me he loved me and gave me a necklace (all done in a fatherly way) my face was so wet with tears knowing I wouldn’t be spending late nights with him drinking grog.

There is also Leba who was like a second mum to me.  Her laugh was incredible, she is such an amazing woman with the kindest heart.  There were nights where we would talk for ages about life and things on my mind.  She was definitely a good friend to me.  I can’t forget Lydia. She left the village just before the end.  She was probably one of my best Fijian friends I had made.  I was closer to her than some of the people in the team.  I love her and saying goodbye to her at 4 in the morning as she left felt like a little taster into what the last day would be like for me.

The day to leave Naicabecabe finally arrived. Wading through the water towards the boat, looking back at the village, knowing I finished my work and that we have to leave our home now, thinking about our new found loved ones and how we have to leave them was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.  I was a mess, everyone was crying and saying our goodbyes around me and I knew everyone is feeling the same.  The band from Nasavuki sang songs in the background.  I went round all the people I have met, clinging to them as we would both cry.  Everyone I talked to said a very sad thank you and farewell.  I know I’ll go back to the village again, it’s my home and I have friends and family there, people I will definitely see again so I knew these goodbyes weren’t forever.

Village life for me has been unbelievable. I personally have never wanted more or needed more than what I have in Naicabecabe.  What we all lacked in material possessions we made up for in community spirit and love for one another.  They all accommodated us so well and I feel so lucky to have experienced Fijian culture like I did the past 9 weeks.  Definitely an unforgettable experience for me and I leave knowing I will always have a home in Fiji.

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I had the absolute time of my life with Think Pacific. Everything was just so far beyond what I could have asked for, or expected.
Alex Jenkinson, Belfast
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