Today’s blog comes from Jeni Conetta, a Travel Expert from our Canterbury store.
I’m what they call a flash packer and unashamedly cling to my creature comforts when travelling abroad. So when I found out I was going to be spending a week with no hot water, limited access to electricity and no air conditioning, my colleagues in-store were concerned to say the least! But, lets face it, when you’re offered a trip to Fiji you don’t say no! I carefully reconsidered the packing regime and took out anything but necessities and got ready to fly out.
Volunteering in Paradise – Vinaka Fiji!
After an early breakfast we were transferred to the Marina in Port Denarau where we boarded the Yasawa Flyer Catamaran to our first Island. The scenery along the journey was a heady mix of various shades of blue where the sky and the seas seem to merge together, stops were made at each peaceful island along the route either picking up passengers or dropping them off.
Our first Island experience was to be in a mixed dorm at the Coral View Resort. Eager to embrace local culture after dinner we joined the locals for a drop of Kava. This is definitely not the fizzy wine but an odd tasting milky liquid made from a root and drunk from a coconut…I remain unconvinced!
After checking out a few hotels (always good to know where your customers are going to stay!) we touched down on Barefoot Island Resort which was to be our base for the next few days, we were greeted upon arrival by a guitar strumming Fijian on the beach.
At dinner this evening we met up with other Volunteers mainly a group from Australia who were working towards their Duke of Edinburgh Award and had been here a few days already. Ellie was our local Vinaka representative and briefed us on what our activities were to include the following day and what we would need to wear. All volunteers must respect local culture so we were issued with sarongs to wear (male or female depending!) to ensure that our knees were covered.
Our lovely group
Up early for breakfast and then the 1 hour boat trip to Naviti island – word of warning you will get wet on this journey! The local children who attend the Yasawa High School from surrounding islands also have to make this journey so will often arrive at school soaked through before they even start. Outwardly the school and grounds look idyllic with wide open spaces, well kept fields with individual buildings around the edges. But inside the is another story, no reprieve from the heat, dated furniture and very basic resources, yet at every desk there is a smiling face.
My job today was to assist the teacher in a class of 5 year olds while she was carrying out feedback sessions with parents. The smallest things mean so much to these children – they all were proud to possess their own individual pencil. Encouraging them to share their language skills we played a board game so that they could shout out words that they recognized, they all shouted out at once, eager to be heard! If these children are lucky enough to continue their studies they may travel to the main Island of Nadi and make a living, if not then their future will probably involve relying on what tourism brings to the Islands for which English is essential.
Some of the great kids at the school
Stormy seas today meant that we were unable to travel to the school project so we devoted time to beach cleaning, keen to pick up anything that the Island can recycle. Conserving the natural beauty of the Islands is essential for Fiji’s survival as a tourist destination. We also made use of today to plan what was ahead of us for the Kese Kindergarten tomorrow.
Our aim today was transform what was a blank canvas classroom into a colourful environment for the pre-school children. We had already agreed who was going to sketch what and had decided on a Nursery Rhyme theme. We had such little time but so much to do so individually we all got on with our own projects. As we cleared the room in preparation it was shocking to see how few resources there were and how out of date they were.
Within a few hours it clear to see we’d made a difference, if a small one, and everywhere you looked there were visually stimulating scenes that will make the room a more pleasurable environment for the children to be in. Before we left the island we handed over the newly decorated building to the nursery teacher who was visibly moved by the transformation, and to ensure we are remembered all STA colleagues put their handprints on the outside wall. We made our weary way back to Barefoot Resort exhausted but immensely pleased with the day’s work.
I didn’t have long on Fiji, and the differences we made may not change the world, but it felt wonderful to be making a small contribution rather than just passing through. If you’re thinking of volunteering a few tips:
Take waterproofs for the boat journey
Take small items for donations ie. Colouring books and pencils or reading books, playing cards etc.
Take energy and enthusiasm
Be prepared to lose a little bit of your heart.