Michelle Howie, Fiji

Michelle Howie - Teacher, Fiji

The most rewarding aspect of a Fijian placement, was the relationships I formed by fully immersing myself in the village culture. In our community, everyone is your family. Realistically I had dozens of brothers, sisters, cousins, fathers, and even sons and daughters! I didn’t consider myself a visitor or a tourist as they initially tried to make me out to be. I was determined to be seen as a local, “Oi au na kaiviti” I would say; “I am a Fijian”. This mutual respect is an essential component of all social relationships I will encounter in the future.

On a typical working day, I’d go for an early run across the Sigatoka valley, before bathing in the river alongside mothers hand washing their children’s clothes, and fathers fishing for tonight’s dinner. I’d come home to breakfast of curried eggplant and roti with tea, before walking teo minutes to the school compound.

After school, if it was a Friday, we would finish early for sport and have deep fried pancakes or pick some fresh paw paw from the farm. I always made the most of the remaining daylight by playing rugby, swimming in the river, mountain hiking, riding horses to the shops, harvesting crops, climbing coconut trees, you name it! If it was a weekend I might even milk our cow, play for the local netball team, or jump off a waterfall!

School life was initially very difficult, as we were much more under resourced than I was used to. With no internet, no lunch bell, out-dated textbooks, and limited chalk supplies I really had to be creative and think on my feet, especially when was given a relief lesson with 10 minutes notice. But miraculously I always pulled through. Ultimately, it taught me to believe in my own abilities and gave me a new perspective on our society’s reliance on material possessions.

The hardest part was returning home to my old life. Everything was painfully unchanged, whereas I felt like a new person. I stress less, I share more. I try new things, embrace change. I talk differently and think differently. I’m not as stubborn, or impatient.

I felt so blessed to be able to take time with the one-on-one remedial support these student’s desperately needed. We volunteers genuinely improve the future prospects of these children by introducing what we see as basic human rights, like knowing the alphabet.

Submitted by: Michelle Howie