I Now Call Fiji Home – Abbey Paterson
Lattitude volunteer Abbey Paterson has recently extended her 8 month placement for another 4 months, because of of the attachment and commitment she has developed for her placement; calling it her new home. Read all about her experience below:
I have spent a wonderful 8 months living in Fiji as a Lattitude Global Volunteering volunteer. This year has shown me things I never expected to see and thrown challenges at me which I would have never expected to be able to deal with. Fiji is now somewhere I call my home and I am very excited to inform you that it will be my home for a further 4 months, as I have extended my stay as a volunteer to include the third school term.
I was originally placed in Bureta Village on Ovalau, where I spent 9 weeks volunteering at the Kindergarten and the primary school. I fell in love with the people in Bureta, most of all the children I spent time with. I have many life long memories from my time there and I made some very close friends during the short time I lived in Bureta. Unfortunately my host family were experiencing family issues and it was decided by Lattitude that I, along with my volunteering partner, would be removed from the placement. On return home, I hope to arrange to work with the charity ‘Children of Fiji’ to provide a box of resources for the Kindergarten in Bureta, as it is where I spent the majority of my time while volunteering in Bureta.
One of the benefits of volunteering overseas with an organisation such as Lattitude, is that they support you in the unlikely event that your placement doesn’t work out. My country manager Joanne Rymell arranged for us to stay in accommodation close to her home on Ovalau. After two weeks, Joanne had a new placement arranged. My volunteering partner and I would be moving to Lovoni village, situated in the interior crater of Ovalau. Lovoni is a hardcore traditional village, where life is centred on farming, house duties and church activities. There is no running water to this village and we are a one hour carrier ride away from shops in the town of Levuka. I arranged to extend my stay to include third term as I have always felt that a long term placement is important when volunteering abroad. This is very much true for a Fijian village as you really do become a member of your village during your stay. With one term in Lovoni complete and another to go, I will return to my village ready to embrace my final term as a volunteer in Fiji. During the first term in Lovoni I was able to redecorate the library, which I will be taking charge of for the remainder of my time in Lovoni. It was clear that the school needed a library which the children were excited to use and somebody willing to spend the time organising the books. In addition to that I have been teaching classes when teachers are away and found the children respond so well to an English speaking teacher in the class room. In only one term I have seen the conversational English of the students advance a great deal from when I arrived. The children of Lovoni have not had a volunteer in 5 years, so it has been a challenge to get them to use their English, as it is common for a teacher to use their mother tongue of Fijian. I have been able to integrate with the staff well, even starting up a tea and coffee club every day at recess, as teachers didn’t spend much time together previously.
One of my biggest challenges in Lovoni village is the issue of running water. The school has running water at most times, however the village does not. As I am accommodated in the village I bathe and wash my clothes in the river which runs through Lovoni village. I learnt to wash my clothes on a ‘papa’(a plank of wood) to scrub my clothes on, while sitting in the river. This was a challenge, not only because it was completely new to me, but also because the amount of time I had to spend after school washing in the river. I spent the first 3 months of washing my clothes in the river every day after school, often the sun would set and I would still be scrubbing away down at the river. Luckily the teachers offered for us to use their water up at their school accommodation, allowing us to spend less time at the river and more time with our host family. Every day I still bathe at a small pool in the river just outside my village, usually with the company of my school students. Some days this is the last thing you want to do, especially when you are sick. However, most of the time I find myself laughing with some of my students while we all take a bath in the river. I must be one of the few lucky volunteer teachers in the world who bath with their students to join them!
Embracing village life has been the most enjoyable part of my stay so far. I can honestly say I feel part of my community. As a volunteer living in the village my experience is so full of culture. Life is simple, but that has allowed me to view life through new eyes. I have seen how Fijians can enjoy life with all their heart, inspiring me to follow suit.
With each village event my eyes are opened to the wonders of Fijian culture. I was lucky enough to take part in the preparations for a funeral in my host family, where days are spent preparing for the feast after the burial. I joined my host family for all of the preparations for the funeral, where I learnt to appreciate why maintaining our traditions can add so much value to our lives.
Being lucky enough to be placed in Lovoni village, the original village of Ovalau, I have learned a lot about the history of Ovlalau and Fiji before the country came to be a British colony. The story of how Chief Cakabau came to be the king of Fiji, involves Lovoni being the only village in all of Fiji not to be conquered by Chief Cakabau.
My aims for the third term include branching out to teach more classes throughout the school. Also to become Lovoni schools first librarian, so that the children can spend time with me in the library enjoying the books they have while strengthening their reading abilities. As my host mother is the head of the Lovoni Women’s Club, I have involved myself in helping her to arrange for the funding of a new hall with kitchen for the women of Lovoni. Currently the women do not have a hall to teach each other skills such as weaving and sewing, which is an important way for the women to earn money and maintain their traditional skills. Furthermore there is no place for the women’s club to keep their cooking utensils and sewing machine, meaning women must keep them in their own homes where they are not used appropriately nor kept safe. To add to this, it falls upon the women of Lovoni to cook for any event in the village, and as it stands there is no place for them to do this. Therefore it is vital that a kitchen is added to the hall where the women can work together to cook for the village. There is a long term benefit to a hall and kitchen owned by the Women’s club, as it can be rented out for family events and the money gained can be put back into the Women’s club. At current we are awaiting a quote for the costs of the building. When this is received I will begin enquiring to organisations which may be able to assist in the costs of building a hall for the Women’s Club.