From Belfast to Fiji: GoGlobal with Think Pacific
Looking to enhance your university experience with a once in a lifetime trip abroad? GB student Charlotte recently had a chance to visit Fiji with Think Pacific for a local community project.
For the last month I have been away in Fiji with Think Pacific working on a local community project. I was lucky enough to get funding from the university to pay for this using the AIB travel scholarship which contributed towards my programme fee. The project has lasted a month and involved living in a remote village in Fiji, staying with a local family and learning their way of life. I lived with a lovely grandma and her daughter who was my age.
For the first few days of the trip, we had introductory sessions and planning for the rest of the project at a resort. This was great fun and in our down time we were able to go snorkelling, paddle boarding and surfing. After 3 days of our introduction in the resort we embarked on our journey to the village.
On the way to the village we stopped in one of the towns to buy gifts for the families and our Fijian customary attire. This attire included Sulus (similar to long skirts) to use for ceremonies and Bula dresses for church (ankle long dresses with special puffed sleeves) or Bula shirts for men.
As soon as we arrived in the village we were welcomed with a traditional cava welcoming ceremony. Cava is a root plant which is found in the jungle and they make Grog out of this which is a drink where you crush the root of the cava and mix it with water. We all had to drink a coconut cup of cava as part of this ceremony before meeting our families. We stayed in pairs with the families and were given a bed to share with our partner in the house.
All of the houses had a small kitchen out the back, a large room which had a living area and shared sleeping area, a toilet with a curtain outside and a bucket shower area with a curtain also outside. The village we were staying in (Korowa) was a small village with only 14 houses, a church and a village hall which was situated in the mountains next to a river. We enjoyed how small the village was as it meant that we knew everyone in the village and everyone was close.
Community project and cultural sessions
A day after arriving, we started the community project which involved hosting learning sessions for the local youths in the mornings, followed by them hosting cultural sessions for us in the afternoon and then sports in the late afternoon before dinner.
The cultural sessions were very interesting with lessons such as village fishing where we worked together to use a giant net to scare the fish into, then killing the fish attached, descaling and gutting the fish and then cooking them on an open fire before eating them together. We managed to catch 74 fish in one session for the whole village to have 1 or 2 fish each.
We also learned how to make hats, carpets and brooms out of palm leaves as well as how to make traditional Fijian dishes such as pumpkin stew, lovo, grog, Lolo buns and Dahl. On the cooking courses, we prepared meals for the entire village which was great fun.
My favourite cultural course was when we created bamboo rafts to take down the river. Our village tends to flood in monsoon season and so we made 4 rafts and stored them away for the village to use in 3 months’ time.
Sports with the locals
After the culture sessions every late afternoon we would play sports with the locals. Some days we would teach them new sports such as cricket, rounders, volleyball and football. On other days the Fijians would teach us new rugby skills which was very special to be a part of because we had Fijian Drua representatives training us. The local women loved playing netball with us and the men especially enjoyed the athletics we would put on.
At the end of the project, we left all the sport equipment behind for the village including tutorial booklets for the new sports that we taught them so that they could carry on playing them after we left. The children loved teaching us new games that they play at their schools in Fiji. It was lovely to see the whole village getting together and involved in the sports every day before dinner. The elders especially enjoyed the yoga sessions in the hall and the middle-aged villagers loved the Zumba sessions.
A packed weekend schedule
On weekends, our schedules were different. They started on a Friday night where we would have devotionals with 4 families in one house, followed by dinner in those groups and then a cava ceremony. For the ceremonies we would all wear our Sulus and would drink the grog and have hop hop which is essentially dancing. The whole village would turn up to these every Friday night - it was lovely to see everyone and spend the whole evening and into the early morning together.
Every Saturday we would go on an excursion out of the village on a trip somewhere which was always a highlight of the week. On the first trip we went caving in cave first inhabited by Fijians in 12AD. The cave had interesting carvings from the first ancestors who lived inside of them and were the size of a sports hall inside so were a lot bigger than we could’ve ever expected.
The second trip was to a waterfall in a nearby village. This involved a canyoning experience climbing up to the waterfall. We then got to jump into different natural pools on the way up as well as into the waterfall. When we climbed back down and into the other village we had a lovely lunch ceremony which involved lots of dancing.
On the next trip we woke up at 4am to start our mountain sunrise hike. The sunrise was due at 6am and we made it to the top at 5:45am so just in time to appreciate the amazing view. This was very challenging in pitch black darkness to hike a mountain with no trails. We had a wonderful view of the village and spent some time taking photos and enjoying nature. When we got back, we had an exciting river safari tour. This was a jet boat which took us to different places along the river to see other villages. It was really fast and so much fun!
The final trip was to Nadi, the capital city to explore markets etc. It is hard to pick a favourite out of the Saturday trips as they were all incredible. On Sundays we would attend church with our Fijian families wearing our special Bula attire. Every week at church we had to perform a song in both Fijian and English that the minister had taught us as well as a Meke which is like a story telling dance.
Sunday is a rest day
Sunday afternoons would be spent relaxing, playing cards, swimming in the river or sleeping as it is a rest day in Fiji. We taught many different card games such as UNO and Monopoly deal to the locals and left them with a few packs of cards.
The benefits of a Queen’s scholarship
The whole project for me has been amazing and couldn’t have been accessible if it wasn’t for my scholarship money from Queen’s. The travel scholarship helped me to be able to afford some of the project fee considering it was very expensive.
From this whole experience I have gained so much, such as new skills, an introduction into a whole new way of life but also some personal goals such as living on the other side of the world for a month in the middle of nowhere. It has taught me to be happy and make the most out of all situations as the village was all so cheerful because they knew that they had one another.
Whilst the project is designed for us to make an impact on the local community, the locals have also made a significant impact on us. As someone who studies international relations and politics, this trip has helped me to understand what sort of things non-western countries value as to them, some of the things that we see as a high priority in politics would be very low down.
Overall, this opportunity has been fantastic and I am highly grateful to Queen’s for my scholarship money to make this trip a reality. I would recommend anyone to sign up at the next GoGlobal fair if you too want to have a similar experience as it is a once in a lifetime thing to do. Think Pacific has been amazing and I cannot imagine having spent my summer any better way than in Fiji.
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Politics and International Relations | Undergraduate Student | London, England
I'm a Politics and International Relations student in my second year at Queen's. I am from London and currently live in student housing but lived in Elms BT9 last year. I love to be a busy person and am a member of multiple societies and teams at Queen's.
I am also undertaking a charitable project at Queen's called the Zambia project where we host fundraisers in order to collect money and aid for our missionary trip to Zambia. In my spare time I teach water sports in Bangor and so far I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Belfast even though it is very different to London. I would highly recommend the university to anyone as I have had the best experience here so far and have fallen in love with this country.