Fiji

Isobel - Local Living in Fiji

Returned Lattitude volunteer Isobel describes the uniqueness of living like a local on her gap year in Fiji.

The feelings I had at the beginning of my placement in comparison to the end of my placement were quite different. I remember feeling overwhelmed, nervous and uncertain when I arrived in my new home to be for the next 5 months. At the beginning attending school was the easier part of placement for me, as the concept was familiar. On the other hand, getting to know my host family and adapting to a new way of life was a little trickier, but a process I really enjoyed and gained much from.

gap year in fijiI remember one evening on a Friday after school, one of the younger siblings in my host family found a golf ball. We decided to create our own version of mini golf using a hammer. We used the hammer to putt the golf ball into a cup, and would move it further and further away to create challenges and competition for ourselves. I just remember how much fun we had from such a simple activity and how easy it is to create your own fun. It reminded me that appreciating the smaller things in life really can make you feel happier and more fulfilled if you take the time to give them this attention.

Throughout my months in Fiji, I was constantly reminded of this, whether it be helping my Lewa (host mum) cook, helping my family on their farm, working one on one with students in class, or going to the shop across the river to get flour for roti and then walking back devouring choc chip cookies. All these moments brought me closer to my host family and students and staff at school. They made me appreciate all of my valuable relationships at home so much more, as well as the little things, which can be often easily overlooked.

By the end of my placement I’d made so many beautiful relationships with my host family, my placement partner, students and staff at school and other people in the village. It was very hard to let go, even when I arrived back I found it difficult to adjust back to normal life at home. This just goes to show how much I valued my experience and the people who made it so memorable.

– Isobel , Lattitude Volunteer Teacher – Fiji

Debbie - Teaching in Fiji

Debbie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji
I chose to go on a gap year because of wanting a break from education but I didn’t really decide to go to Fiji…it was more accidental. I saw a Lattitude Global Volunteering stand at a UCAS day and picked up a leaflet, I then had a look online and applied to see what it was about and before I knew it I was on the placement to go to Fiji!

First things first: I absolutely love Fiji! I had the time of my life in so many ways and had so many experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

Arriving was amazing, we saw the sun rise out of the plane window and were welcomed by singing and dancing from Fijians in the airport, all with flowers in their hair, it seemed magical!After a three day orientation a small fishing boat took me and my volunteer partner across the sea to the village of Uluibau on Motoriki. The island looked stunning!

White beaches and palm trees; just what I would have imagined traditional Fiji to look like.The volunteering role was teaching in the local village school which had eight classes but just three teachers.

The first week I woke up every morning nervous and scared but always went to bed with the biggest smile on my face and from then on I never looked back. I gained confidence over time and attempted different lessons including sciences and first aid. Outside of school I spent most of my time with the villagers, who became my family and friends; they now mean the world to me.

Whilst I was there a good Fijian friend got married and asked me to be her bridesmaid; I have never been so pleased or honoured at such a request. To have been there such a small amount of time but to have become so significant in her life was so moving. The wedding ceremony was massive, all the villagers came – the church was overflowing!
The celebrations went on for days with big feasts happening all the time. That is the one big thing I can say about the Fijians they do just enjoy life!

When it came to leaving a I was just devastated. All my Fijian family came to wave me off at the airport; they meant so much to me and I didn’t know how long it would be before I got the opportunity to see them next. The first thing I did when I got back to the UK was book flights back to Fiji!

I truly believe you get out of something what you put into it……and even though you go with the idea of helping someone else, I think you get as much from the experience as they do, if not more.

Jamie - Teaching in Fiji

Jamie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji
Name: Jaime Robertson
Nationality: New Zealander
Placement Country: Fiji
Name of the placement: Pafco Kindergarten, Ovalau
Role: Teacher/Caregiver

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.

Why Fiji?

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.

Jamie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

Why Lattitude?

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.
Jamie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

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.
Jamie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

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.Jamie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

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.

Jamie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

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.

Jamie's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

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.

Michael - Teaching in Fiji

Michael's Lattitude Gap Year in FijiI was in Fiji working in a high school where my primary role was as a teacher and teacher’s assistant in the maths and physics department. I was also in charge of coordinating the Duke of Edinburgh Award programme at the school; helping out with various extra-curricular activities; and occasionally assisting with supervising the boarders. I was staying with a local host family and so, in addition to my work commitments, I got to participate in Fijian family life.

I think I would be very hard pushed indeed to choose my favourite part of the experience – there were so many different factors which all contributed towards the amazing time I had. The people I got to meet and the cultural education I gained through them helped make it a very special experience, as did the amazing places I got to visit whilst I was there. Perhaps the most exciting and proudest moment of the whole placement came right at the end when my school hosted a two day sports tournament and carnival and invited me to be the Chief Guest for the opening day.

What skills did I learn? Working as a teacher, I obviously gained skills specific to my role, from lesson planning to classroom management (although I would be lying if I said I mastered any of them – I was still learning a lot by the time I finished my placement). However, in many ways what I value more are the life skills and capabilities that I developed through my time in Fiji. Things such as being able to adapt to a completely different lifestyle; having the confidence to stand up in front of a class of students scarcely younger than you; developing an appreciation of and sensitivity towards different cultures; building up a resilience towards highly demanding and challenging situations; and managing the logistical and financial aspects of travelling to the other side of the world for several months have all proved really useful since I returned and, no doubt, will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Michelle - Teaching in Fiji

Lattitude Gap Year in FijiThe most rewarding aspect of a Fijian placement, was the relationships I formed by fully immersing myself in the village culture. In our community, everyone is your family. Realistically I had dozens of brothers, sisters, cousins, fathers, and even sons and daughters! I didn’t consider myself a visitor or a tourist as they initially tried to make me out to be. I was determined to be seen as a local, “Oi au na kaiviti” I would say; “I am a Fijian”. This mutual respect is an essential component of all social relationships I will encounter in the future.

On a typical working day, I’d go for an early run across the Sigatoka valley, before bathing in the river alongside mothers hand washing their children’s clothes, and fathers fishing for tonight’s dinner. I’d come home to breakfast of curried eggplant and roti with tea, before walking teo minutes to the school compound.

After school, if it was a Friday, we would finish early for sport and have deep fried pancakes or pick some fresh paw paw from the farm. I always made the most of the remaining daylight by playing rugby, swimming in the river, mountain hiking, riding horses to the shops, harvesting crops, climbing coconut trees, you name it! If it was a weekend I might even milk our cow, play for the local netball team, or jump off a waterfall!

School life was initially very difficult, as we were much more under resourced than I was used to. With no internet, no lunch bell, out-dated textbooks, and limited chalk supplies I really had to be creative and think on my feet, especially when was given a relief lesson with 10 minutes notice. But miraculously I always pulled through. Ultimately, it taught me to believe in my own abilities and gave me a new perspective on our society’s reliance on material possessions.

The hardest part was returning home to my old life. Everything was painfully unchanged, whereas I felt like a new person. I stress less, I share more. I try new things, embrace change. I talk differently and think differently. I’m not as stubborn, or impatient.

I felt so blessed to be able to take time with the one-on-one remedial support these student’s desperately needed. We volunteers genuinely improve the future prospects of these children by introducing what we see as basic human rights, like knowing the alphabet.

Submitted by: Michelle Howie

Lily - Teaching in Fiji

Lily's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

Volunteering in Fiji changed Lily’s life. The experience altered her university plans, and now she is studying to be a cultural anthrolologist.

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!

Lily's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

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!

Danika - Teaching in Fiji

Danica's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

“Madam, what’s that?” a young student asked me, her brown eyes were wide with curiosity.  “Oh, it’s paint,” I replied, surprised that something I grew up with in Australia was such a strange concept to her. I knew at that moment that this experience was going to impact me; I just never knew how significant it would be.

Living in a rural village in Fiji and volunteering at the local school for three months was by far one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Some days we travelled to school by bus; my placement partner Kaitlin and I would quickly plonk ourselves down before it took off. The students were always quiet on the short journey to school in the morning, but when we started dancing to the reggae-remixed version of a song they would always break out into giggles.

That’s the thing about Fijian people; they are happy 99% of the time. Every day I was in Fiji I couldn’t help but smile with them.

When most people think of Fiji they think of crystal blue oceans, palm trees and coconuts. I know my first thoughts were also along those lines. However, now when I think of Fiji I think of the children I met, their beautiful smiles and their crazy laughter. I think of the teachers who love what they do, and how caring and devoted they are to their students, always encouraging them to do better. I think of my new friends, and the incredible hospitality of my second family. I think of swimming in the river with the village kids, having a bucket of water to bathe in and singing in Fijian with the choir on Sunday’s at church. I think of eating fish with its head still attached, drinking tea, all the time, and eating cassava covered in tomato sauce.

When I think of Fiji, I think of my island home.

Mariah - Teaching in Fiji

Mariah's Lattitude Gap Year in 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.”

Debbie - Teaching in Fiji

I chose to go on a gap year because of wanting a break from education but I didn’t really decide to go to Fiji…it was more accidental. I saw a Lattitude Global Volunteering stand at an expo and picked up a leaflet, I then had a look online and applied to see what it was about and before I knew it I was on the placement to go to Fiji!

First things first: I absolutely love Fiji! I had the time of my life in so many ways and had so many experiences I wouldn’t otherwise have had.

Arriving was amazing, we saw the sun rise out of the plane window and were welcomed by singing and dancing from Fijians in the airport, all with flowers in their hair, it seemed magical!After a three day orientation a small fishing boat took me and my volunteer partner across the sea to the village of Uluibau on Motoriki. The island looked stunning!

White beaches and palm trees; just what I would have imagined traditional Fiji to look like.The volunteering role was teaching in the local village school which had eight classes but just three teachers.

The first week I woke up every morning nervous and scared but always went to bed with the biggest smile on my face and from then on I never looked back. I gained confidence over time and attempted different lessons including sciences and first aid. Outside of school I spent most of my time with the villagers, who became my family and friends; they now mean the world to me.

Whilst I was there a good Fijian friend got married and asked me to be her bridesmaid; I have never been so pleased or honoured at such a request. To have been there such a small amount of time but to have become so significant in her life was so moving. The wedding ceremony was massive, all the villagers came – the church was overflowing!
The celebrations went on for days with big feasts happening all the time. That is the one big thing I can say about the Fijians they do just enjoy life!

When it came to leaving a I was just devastated. All my Fijian family came to wave me off at the airport; they meant so much to me and I didn’t know how long it would be before I got the opportunity to see them next. The first thing I did when I got back to the UK was book flights back to Fiji!

I truly believe you get out of something what you put into it……and even though you go with the idea of helping someone else, I think you get as much from the experience as they do, if not more.

Jemma - Teaching in Fiji

Jemma's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

Fiji may be miles from home but it is always somewhere which will be close to my heart and somewhere which I am proud to call my second home. I was placed in Hilton Special School which caters for children with disabilities, specifically those with physical and hearing impairments.

As someone with no previous experience with anyone with disabilities upon arrival at my placement, I began to wonder what and how I could contribute to the lives of these children but I soon began to realise that it’s the small things that matter.

In the morning I would climb on the school bus, arriving with the majority of the children all eager for the day ahead. Every day, without a doubt, I would be greeted by smiling faces calling out ‘Good Morning Teacher Jemma’. I was placed in Master Serevi’s class – someone who will always inspire me. Being deaf himself, he teaches a combined class of students all with hearing impairments.

Thanks to learning the alphabet in sign language as a Brownie I was able to scrape by on my first day – even learning a few simple signs. I found it incredibly frustrating not being able to communicate fully with the teacher or the students but this gave me the determination I needed to learn their language. Looking back now, without that experience I may never have had the encouragement and support needed to learn to sign. Every day after school I would go through the sign language dictionary and try and teach myself some new words and the children were always extremely supportive and encouraging. My confidence increased, slowly, and I did teach a couple of lessons by myself. My duties varied on a daily basis, sometimes I focused on one to one learning, sometimes I helped by creating worksheets as well as just generally helping out the other teachers.

I think one of my biggest achievements during my placement was creating a study/play room for the children that lived at the school. Previously the children used to complete their homework in the noisy communal area and had nowhere to play. I decided to transform one of the spare back rooms into what is now their recreational room.

During the school holidays I was a part of the Deaf Awareness Team. We spent a week travelling, visiting villages to promote sign language and deaf culture and educating people to try and eliminate communication barriers. It was also an opportunity to find any potential students who weren’t aware of the school. It was so refreshing living in a community where the biggest part of your life is your family and your friends and not money and what Playstation you own. Fiji is about ensuring your family and friends are ‘set’. Everyone you meet in Fiji is so welcoming and as a ‘kavalagi’ especially in the village, people want to know all about you. No quick two minute introductions, but who you are, why you’re in Fiji, how many are in your family back home, how old you are? When asked what I was doing in Fiji I felt so proud to tell them that I was a volunteer. Being a volunteer meant I was able to give something back to the community and it is something that I found extremely worthwhile. Everyone was so grateful that I was volunteering as a teacher in a school that caters for children with disabilities.

The biggest challenge for me was leaving and returning home; I suffered from worse culture shock coming back than I did going out. I still expect to be greeted by a warm smile passing people in the street. As clichéd as it sounds my time spent in Fiji made me understand myself better, giving me a new direction and focus in my life. It didn’t change me as a person but put my life into perspective and taught me that money cannot buy happiness and it’s the people that make life what it is.

My year with Lattitude Global Volunteering has taught me so many new things and allowed me to see the world from a different perspective. Being in Fiji has been challenging at times but has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. There isn’t one thing I’d change. It allowed me to see my strengths and my weaknesses and through this enabled me to become a stronger person.

Never did a day go by where the children failed to put a smile on my face. I can’t thank the Lattitude Global Volunteering enough for making this happen. Without them I would never have met the people I did and who I now consider my best friends and my family. I am forever grateful and can now look forward in my life with the same passion, enthusiasm and gratefulness I saw among the people of Fiji. Vinaka Vakalevu.

 

Leila - Teaching in Fiji

Leila's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

Living in Fiji has really opened my eyes, it was the first time I have lived away from family apart from a couple of short holidays. In Fiji everyone smiles and says “bula” to each other on the street; on my road at home, I would be lucky if I got one ‘hello’ a week!

‘Fiji time’ means that everything is slow-paced, appointments are often not met and people stroll around very slowly in the streets. It’s not rare to find yourself waiting around for someone or something to happen in Fiji. Therefore I can say with confidence that patience is a skill I have really developed. Ironically I have had to be very pro-active during my time at the kindergarten. The teachers used to always say, “have a rest” but I would always go and find something that needed doing. I’m proud to say that I would do my best to find a way to keep busy and I really learnt to use my initiative to get things done! At Nadi Airport Playcentre I assisted staff by helping to organise the classroom in preparation for the morning and afternoon sessions. During class time I supervised children with activities such as puzzles, play-dough, drawing and reading. Art and craft has always been my passion so I regularly helped to design and make teaching props. I also assisted with IT by helping to type up documents, such as newsletters, and encouraged teachers to develop their computer skills, which were fairly basic.

Having completed this placement, I feel more independent and have more faith in myself. I feel like I could take on almost any challenge. Confidence, positivity and open-mindedness are the best tools. As a volunteer of seven months, I really enjoyed learning about the country, the culture and making new friends; I now consider Fiji to be home and my friends to be family. Some of the best things about being a volunteer were when my colleagues thanked me for teaching them something new and useful; when I was told “we’ve really learnt a lot from you”; knowing that I positively influenced the people I worked with; knowing that they will continue some of the practices that I initiated, such as recycling. I was learning new things every day and consistently finding ways to help.

I felt that the more I learned about the kindergarten, the more I could offer them, and the more useful I could be. Making a positive contribution is the best thing about volunteering.

During the two-week school holidays another Lattitude volunteer and I stayed with a Fijian friend’s family in their village. Before every meal the family would pray. Although they spoke in Fijian, we could always hear our names in their prayers. On some occasions, they would even cry. When I asked my friend what was being said, she told me that her parents were praying for us – asking God to bless us, guide us and protect us. When it came to the end of the holiday there were plenty of tears from everyone when we were saying goodbye. Calling them “Mum” and “Dad” and feeling like I was really a part of their family after such a short amount of time is a feeling that I wish I could share with the whole world. On the last night, the entire village had a party for us. I was there for less than two weeks yet I felt so welcomed, there was so much love and so much warmth. I was really moved. No matter how much or how little someone has of something, they will always share it. I honestly cannot describe how warm, genuine and welcoming the people of Fiji are.

Being in Fiji miles from the place I call home, I had lots of time to reflect on the person I was and think about the person I would like to be. Living in ‘Fiji time’ has given me a chance to think about the relationships I have, my approach to people, the targets I would like to achieve in the future and my general attitude to life. I’ve learnt about what makes me happy and what makes me sad, I’ve learnt about how I should treat myself and how I should treat others.

Before my trip to Fiji I had planned to have a career working with NGOs or doing community work; although I would like to realise this dream, I have also realised that I don’t necessarily need to be in such a profession to be humanitarian and do good to others. Charity comes from the heart; it’s about attitude. I can always do good to others – I don’t need a paid job to do it.

In Fiji people are softly spoken, considerate, they will explain what their point is and listen to what you have to say; when I went back to the Western way of life, I felt upset by the way some people could speak mindlessly at times. In the West it is not unusual to be judged by the way you look, how your hair is styled, what clothes you wear, how you speak, where you are from, and those things didn’t seem to matter in Fiji. I miss that. Everything is everyone’s and everyone is equal – that’s the way I like living. I will keep this attitude with me.

Mursal - Teaching in Fiji

Mursal's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

I spent seven months volunteering in Fiji for my Lattitude placement. I got to do a huge variety of work because I had so much time there. One term I taught full time and the next I spent teaching part time whilst organising school clubs, events and working on my biggest project, the Bure that would house future volunteers. A Bure is the Fijian word for a wood and straw hut. I think that my favourite aspect of the volunteering in Fiji was the flexibility in terms of work. The sky really is the limit, it’s all about using your initiative and finding something to do that you will enjoy and that will be helpful to the community. It always helped that the people were grateful for anything I could do to help them out.

My experience has made me a much more independent, self motivated person. From living in my parents’ house to living pretty much alone without my friends and family was a challenge, but it made me take control of the situation. I think those initial couple of weeks have helped me so much now that I have left home again for university, most people are slightly shell shocked at not living at home anymore whereas, this time, it has been a really smooth transition for me. I also found that without my mum or teachers nagging at me to get things done, it was up to me and only me to make sure I got myself out of bed in the morning and did something productive with my day. I learnt that I was my own master and what I had achieved at the end of the day was in my hands alone.

I went to bed feeling exhausted but exhilarated knowing that I had just achieved something amazing. My time in Fiji has also made me a lot less judgemental about people from different backgrounds than my own.

It’s so easy when you are constantly surrounded by people who live similar lives to yours, but when you experience life through the eyes of someone whose life is completely different on every level, you end up feeling that people may lead different lives but as long as they are happy it doesn’t really matter, and in terms of the Fijians, they were pretty happy people.

Another reason my placement was so great was the role that Lattitude took in it. Many of my friends have taken gap years abroad, some volunteering, others merely travelling. What Lattitude does best is locating placements in places that are off the beaten track and more importantly giving the volunteers enough time there and independence to completely immerse themselves in the culture and become part of the community. We are also given the encouragement and freedom to take our experience into our own hands and make it our own – I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that I would be building a hut on a tiny island in Fiji but with the freedom to take my own initiative and given great support from Lattitude when I needed it, it was a great success.

I arrived full of nervous energy and enthusiasm, I left Moturiki thinking “This is my village. Those are my people”. I didn’t just live there, I wasn’t just visiting; I was a member of their society, a kaiviti not a kaivalagi. I have a Fijian family, colleagues and friends.

What made them so special to me was their open armed policy and their acceptance. It didn’t matter what the colour of my skin was, what my parents did, what school I went to or where I come from. I have found that I am now more accepting of people from different backgrounds to my own. Volunteering has also made me more aware of social projects in my own back yard and I am now a more active member of my own community. I plan to take another year out after uni – Fiji gave me the travel bug and I can’t wait to have my next adventure! Oh and my Bure is still standing by the way.

Laura - Teaching in Fiji

Laura's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

My time in Fiji was the most amazing, challenging and life changing 3.5 months of my life. Being able to live like the locals in a rural village sent many challenges my way especially conforming to their very simple way of life, accepting their cultural expectations and adapting to the community based lifestyle. On the other hand there is no better way to experience first hand the culture of such a friendly and welcoming race of people. I quickly got used to hand washing my clothes, cold showers, enormous feasts and sharing everything with my new family.

Laura's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji
My favourite time of the day was working with my “slow reader”. She is a year 5 girl who cannot speak or read English. I tutored her one on one every day after school. Seeing her improvement or a joyful smile when she read a word correctly was extremely rewarding and satisfying. Fijians taught me the importance of happiness and I quickly learnt that humans do not need materialistic items to fullfil this.
Laura's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji
I am also now very thankful of my life in New Zealand and vowed to never take safe hot and cold tap water for granted. Fiji is an enormously diverse country which gives you the ability to experience different cultures and ways of life. I have made friends and family for life in Fiji and the country will always hold a special place in my heart.

Michelle - Teaching in Fiji

Michelle volunteered as a Teacher in Fiji with Lattitude Global Volunteering and had an amazing time. She shares some of her experiences in this video and wraps it all up beautifully in saying “…the most rewarding aspect of a Fijian placement specifically, was the relationships I formed by fully immersing myself in the village culture. I didn’t consider myself a visitor or a tourist as they initially tried to make me out to be. I was determined to be seen as a local, “Oi au na kaiviti” I would say; “I am a Fijian”. This mutual respect is an essential component of all social relationships and allows me to relate better to all of the people I will come across in my life.”

Kereni - Teaching in Fiji

FINALLY made this video of my time as as volunteer teacher in Fiji. So a while ago I did something completely random. I packed up my bags and said goodbye to all things in my comfort zone. Enjoy watching….

Lucy - Teaching in Fiji

Mark - Teaching in Fiji


Nestled away in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, straddling 180° longitude the Fiji islands are about as far away from England as you can get. For me that was as good a reason as any for choosing to apply to volunteer in Fiji, but the opportunity to gain worthwhile experience both in a working and cultural capacity also appealed. If you add to that the lush green landscape, the hot tropical climate and the welcoming friendly nature of the people there really isn’t a better place to spend a few months or more.

My placement was based in the interior of the main island of Viti Levuin an area lacking in any of the development and infrastructure seen in the tourist areas. I was working in a small secondary school with about 120 students aged between 13 – 19. The school itself is a community school owned and run by the 4 local tribes from the surrounding villages, which is also where the students come from. About 40 of the students were boarders whilst the rest would travel daily to school.

My role in the school varied from teaching PE, music and art, to assisting with their English, to teaching Maths and Physics. There weren’t many subjects that I didn’t end up teaching at one point or another, and I was repeatedly thanked and told they don’t know how they would have coped without me. There was so much variety in the work I did during my placement; I went from teaching students how to play cricket, to reading music, to solving simultaneous equations. My work was not just restricted to the classroom; I was also involved in helping students train for the schools athletics competition, and trying to teach them the piano. Rest assured there is plenty of work for you to get stuck into.

Living in the middle of the Fijian jungle is obviously a bit of a shock at first, but you very quickly adjust. We were lucky enough to have regular electricity but the water supply was limited to a couple of hours a day which is obviously very different to the situation at home, where water is just something you take for granted. However the friendliness of the local community makes it very easy to adjust and cope with living in such a different environment so far away form home. Fijiis often called one of the friendliest countries in the world and it’s easy to see why. Everywhere I went people would greet me, and everyone within a 20 km radius seemed to know exactly who I was, which was probably because I was the only kavalagi (European) around.
Mark's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

 

Whilst my weekdays would be spent living and working in the school, during the weekend I would usually stay in one of the surrounding villages. This could be a ten minute bus ride away, or if not on the main road, a two hour walk. It’s only really in the village that you get to experience the traditional Fijian way of life, but it’s also here that you will feel most at home. The way I was accepted into a family’s home and treated as one of their own was truly humbling. While in the village we might go to the farm to pull some cassava (a root crop) in the morning, or go fishing in the river to catch our food for lunch. The afternoon would be spent resting then maybe playing rugby or volleyball before bathing in the river. Rugby, especially sevens, is the national game ofFiji and games of “touch” are frequent. Anyone can join in no matter your age or ability so you can find yourself sometimes playing with about 30 people crammed into a space barely big enough for 10, but that is, as they say, the Fijian way.

Food is naturally a bit different from back home but one thing’s for certain there is always lots of it. The Fijians have a pretty big appetite so there is little chance of going hungry during your time here, and they will routinely tell you to “kana vakalevu” (eat plenty). Cassava, dalo and the ubiquitous rourou are the staples of the village diet but there is also plenty of fish, prawns, chicken and other meat on occasion. The other ever-present in village life is Yaqona (Kava), an important ceremonial and social drink, and you come to love the sound of the clang of metal in the evening as the yaqona is pounded.

Some of the many memories of my time in Fiji were:

Jumping off the many waterfalls that are tucked away inFiji’s interior.
Exploring the local Wailotua cave, very big and full of cannibal history.
Going fishing armed only with a spear, much more fun than using a rod.
Watching Fiji win the Gold Coast sevens. The whole village was in one small house crowded round the only TV, passionately cheering the team on.
Holding my first proper conversation entirely in Fijian without needing to speak any English.
Visiting the island of Taveuni, the garden island of Fiji.

Mark's Lattitude Gap Year in Fiji

 

I’ve learned so much by living and working in Fiji for 11 months, the type of education I could never have hoped to have back home and it has certainly made me think much more about what’s truly important in life. You come to appreciate the importance of community and sharing and realise just how materialistic our society is back home. Everywhere you go you are met by smiling faces and you can’t walk past anyone’s house without them calling to you to come and drink tea.

Leaving the community and leaving Fiji was very hard and I was tempted to extend my placement for a second time. My initial placement was for 7 months but I was enjoying myself so much that I asked if I could extend until the end of the year. Fortunately Lattitude and their representatives in Fiji were extremely helpful and understanding and facilitated this for me with the minimum of fuss I’m already planning my return and when I do go back I know it will feel just like returning home.