VOLUNTEERING IN FIJI CHANGED LILY’S LIFE. THE EXPERIENCE ALTERED HER UNI PLANS AND SHE IS NOW STUDYING TO BE A CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST.
The idea that I would want to volunteer was always there from Year 12; Lattitude came to my school and did an information day when I was too young to volunteer. When I finished high school and realized I needed a break from school, Lattitude was right there as another option. Fiji was never actually on the cards for me a destination, but I rang up the Lattitude office when I was really struggling to make a decision and the lady said “hey, I think you’d enjoy Fiji”- she was right!!
I was situated 20 minutes from the main road on the Coral Coast of Fiji. Surrounded by beautiful jungle, I lived with a family of three women and no men (slightly unusual in Fijian society) My Fijian mum, or ‘Nene’ was 61, her daughter Lusi was in her 30’s and Lusi’s daughter Ama was 7. My village was probably about 500 Fijians strong and relied heavily on the tourist industry as a source of income. The school had 400 students, and was a Catholic school that provided education for children from many different villages in the area. It had spacious grounds and moderately sized classrooms that were usually packed full of children- on average about 35-40 in a class!
My roles included that of “health nurse”; the classes had regular health checks for boils and sores, and children came to me if they had cuts or fevers! My skills with a computer were greatly valued; even just typing up tests on Word. Otherwise my role as a teacher was minor, I was usually called on to help if the teacher was absent or if the class was really big.
The home I lived in was in a village 20 minutes from the school. The house was relatively small, but I had my own bedroom, and there was an inside toilet and bathroom which most houses didn’t have. The building was stable but rudimentary to our standards, with a tin roof.
I think that the best method I had for coping with the differences between Fiji and home was simply communicating with my family, and letting yourself take time out. I think my foster family forgot at times what an adjustment it was for me, but once I let them know that I was feeling, they let me have some space. You have to remember that the experience can be just as different for them as it is for you! Also really involving them in your life back home is important; show them your family! Tell them about where you live etc. Create strong bonds, not just in your foster family but in the community - you WILL be rewarded!
Thinking of my favourite moment: there were lots of little things. Mostly watching the spark in a child’s eye when they suddenly understand something in class. Or realizing that you know enough of the native language to hold a conversation, and you aren’t just a tourist! Or the first time your Fijian mum calls you her daughter…there are so many incredible moments that you collect with something like this.
I’m more confident now, I know what I’m capable of and I know exactly where my comfort zone is-and what to do to get out of it! I have a group of friends and family in another country that are just the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. I have become a lot more aware of how I act and react in the world, and just how much I have to contribute.
I grew as a person; volunteering changed my entire life path. It changed what I was planning to study at university, I’m now studying to be a cultural anthropologist. I now have a huge interest in cultures different to my own, and also the English language and language in general. I would love to get a job in anthropology and spend the rest of my life travelling and discovering all the world has to offer!