Name: Jaime Robertson
Nationality: New Zealander
Placement Country: Fiji
Name of the placement: Pafco Kindergarten, Ovalau
What made you volunteer in the first place?
In my eyes volunteering opens up chances more than just seeing the country, you are able to be involved with not only the people and their community but also their culture. Volunteering gives travel a purpose, rather than going over and just being a tourist and enjoying the tourist scenes of that country, you are able to really connect, get involved and see the ‘true’ Fiji. I have also always wanted to make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small. To help and potentially change someones life in a positive way, has always been a goal. Something you do while volunteering may seem so small to you, but it can have a big impact on peoples lives.
If you open google and search ‘Fiji’ you are overwhelmed with beautiful pictures of white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue waters. When I searched Fiji I was in awe of the beautiful beaches, but I also thought to myself, what else is there in Fiji? What the internet isn't able to show is the culture and so much love the Fijians will give you no matter how little they have. I wanted to experience the ‘true’ Fiji and with Lattitude I was able to in all aspects
I was still really young when I decided I was going to volunteer after finishing secondary school. Lattitude is an organisation that provides and suits all ages. They have everything in place for you, from your first day arriving in Fiji and to your very last. Lattitude also helped reassure my parents to allow me to go to Fiji for 8 months. My parents thought that the organisation was very reliable and supportive therefore they were comfortable with allowing their 18 year old daughter go off on the experience of her lifetime. Lattitude provides a strong and safe experience, all Lattitude staff were always helpful and no matter what you wanted to ask they were always there to help.
Can you describe your placement in detail?
Ovalau is a small island that is separate from the island where Suva and Nadi lays. Ovalau was my home for 8 months. I was placed in a daycare called Pafco Kindy where 60 children gathered for fun days, all of which were between the ages of 3 to 5. Including myself there were 4 teachers and a cook. We all started the day at 8am with a joint mat time, all 60 children sitting together, singing songs, telling stories and laughing a lot. We would end our mat times with bible studies and a prayer. The next half of the day would consist of the children being in 3 separate groups, 3 year olds, 4 year olds and 5 year olds. I was able to teach the 3 year olds along side another Fijian teacher. We would sing songs, count numbers and learn the alphabet in English with also a few translations in Fijian. We would also play games, do lots of colouring in and test the children's balance skills by hopping around the room on one foot. Everyday we would teach something new and there was always a lot of fun. I was constantly deafened by the happy screams and laughter coming from my children. In the afternoons all children would have a nap and once they woke they were able to play outside for the rest of the day until the daycare closed at 5. I developed close bonds with all children as well as the staff I was lucky enough to work along side, they all treated me like family. By the end of my placement each and everyone of the children and staff had a special place in my heart and they will forever.
Could you give us some more examples of your duties?
I undertook many duties in my placement. Every third week I would lead mat time, this included taking all 60 children and teaching them a certain topic for example birds. This mat time would cover about an hour. Each day would also involve teaching my 3 year olds, numbers, letters and colours, I would have to create entertaining ways of presenting these. Every night I would also draw a picture for them all to colour in everyday, they love to colour!
I developed a new duty for myself to ensure all children while there and that was brushing their teeth after lunch, this was an area in which all Fijians needed support with. So the teachers and I created a teeth brushing system so we knew all of our children were brushing their teeth at least once a day. Part of my role was to ensure all children were happy and having fun.
Can you describe your accommodation?
For 8 months I lived with my volunteer partner, who worked in a local primary school near the daycare and with a family in their home. It was a 10 minute walk away from the daycare and town, so it wasn't difficult to grab anything that was needed. My host family was always loving, caring and made me feel right at home. Their house was made out of tin and concrete and it had no hot water therefore we had cold water showers. Every meal we would sit on the ground and eat as a family. We would share all chores within the family from cleaning the dishes, washing the clothes and cooking the meals. I was privileged to share a room with my volunteer partner and some nights my host siblings would like to sleep in our bed with us. We were all very close as a family.
How did you cope with the big differences between Fiji and home?
Overall Lattitude prepared us well to what to expect however at first the big differences were challenging and took a little bit to adapt to. I was able to cope better by having my volunteer partner to talk with everyday. My volunteer partner became my best friend. We were always there for each other and I have recently travelled to her home town to visit her.
Can you tell us some of your favourite moments?
One of the best things that happened while I was volunteering in the daycare was seeing my children excel and improve with the english language. I did not realise how far they had come until my last month with them. They had improved so much and all because of me. It made me proud and the happiest I have ever been. One of my favourite moment’s was waking up everyday knowing I was able to see all my children and being able to teach them everyday. The love i received every day from my family, the teachers i worked with and the children i taught was what made everyday my favourite moment.
How about the toughest times?
The toughest time would have had to be at the very start when I was still learning the Fijian language. All the children I looked after and taught spoke very little English. It was hard to communicate and to get the children's full attention most of the time. However I learnt the Fijian language as fast as I could, my children became my teachers to help me learn their language.
Can you tell us how you developed personally whilst in Fiji?
Confidence. Im now okay with being out of my comfort zone. I was never like that, I liked my own personal bubble and always stayed in it. I have also grown and matured as a person, and I appreciate all that I have and have a completely different outlook on whats important in life, as an example I am no longer as materialistic as I may have been previous to my experience in Fiji. I value people and the relationships I share, as well as the experiences I have been lucky enough to have.
What are you doing now?
I am at Massey University studying Health Sciences majoring in Rehabilitation. My experience in Fiji really helped me decide my future focuses. That is to help people. I am hoping to also study culture anthropology as I have an interest in all cultures around the world. I want to learn and experience them all. I look forward to traveling the world and to one day volunteer again.