Mariah Hommelhoff, Fiji


Mariah Hommelhoff – Community Worker, Fiji

"I was 17 and eager for a challenge. My first day involved a rugged, bumpy, muddy trek in the jeep through the landscape of Ovalau Island. I was dropped off outside the school which was positioned right in front of the ocean, and I was alone! The kids all ran out and took my hand with great smiles and full of excitement, already calling me ‘madam’ while the other kids carried my backpack with a wheelbarrow to my room. It was all very overwhelming and surreal. They started me with Class 1 and 2 straight away! One month ago I was in school, now I’m the teacher. Everything is new and exciting, you learn to adapt and change your lifestyle, any materialistic item that was once important to you is now easy to live without, and your perception of the world completely changes. All that matters to you are the new friends you make and the family back at home. Once you can say ‘Bula Vinaka’ and drink kava at full tide you’re already a part of the family. I kept a journal through my adventure in Fiji and this was one particular entry that I can always relate to:

“It’s evening turning into night and I hear the familiar sounds of the village; scraping coconuts, pounding of the kava, the last few machetes chopping through the plantations, the final truck dropping off market ladies while villagers stop to say ‘Bula vinaka’. You can hear the loud beats of the lali drum as the community start to gather for church. The distant echoes of farmers yelling ‘moce’ to his neighbour and the buzz of the surrounding jungle, mosquitoes are coming out and the sun is turning the sky pink. The waterfall is still overflowing from the morning’s rain as everyone gathers to rinse out the last of the washing. Mothers are rounding up the kids for their evening ‘sili’ (bath) while they still run around in the mud with the soccer ball. My host family and I just had our ‘wee’ fruit under the mango tree, baby Brian is squirming and we all go in to have ‘masu’ (prayers). Dinner is served - cassava and rourou leaves and my host mum yells “kana” (food). Fiji is a challenge, the village of Rukuruku changed my life and, beyond some of its rough exteriors, it is a magical place of family, generosity, community and rich culture.”