November 13, 2017, by Carla

My Summer Volunteering in Fiji (and How You Can Do It Too!)

By Maggie Brina, second-year mathematics student

Last summer, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the summer volunteering in Fiji with Think Pacific. Looking back at my time, there are so many highlights, challenges and unique experiences that I’ll never forget.

Arriving on the first day in the village was surreal. We travelled by motor boat and had to carry our bags through the shallow crystal-clear water, having sailed as close to the shore of the tiny Moturiki island as possible.

As we neared the shore, an enthusiastic flock of children and men came rushing out into the water. They had beaming smiles and the women of the village were waiting to greet us with handmade flower garlands and big hugs.

This was just the beginning…

Being adopted into my Fijian family was probably one of the scariest moments. Suddenly we were supposed to rely on these strangers to feed and take care of us – but that’s exactly what they did with open arms and open hearts. My ‘Ta’ (Dad) was the priest in the village, and my ‘Na’ (Mum) was one of the best cooks I’ve ever met.

Everyday we’d play games, eat, drink, dance and relax with everyone in the village – the villagers even made a volleyball pitch in the central grassy area just for our stay. This is where we’d hang out and try to beat the villagers in enthusiastic volleyball matches until sunset. The feeling of community as you’re walking through a Fijian village is immense and everyone treats you as family.

The first day in school was crazy!

The kids were wild and the teachers were so laid back that the contrast amused us all for days. Standing up in front of a group of 25 children anywhere from six to 13 years old is never an easy thing to do, but with the training from our first three days on the expedition, and the help from our fantastic leaders, I got through it without too much pain.

From then on, getting to know the kids was an absolute pleasure and they will always have a special place in my heart. Through the teaching in the classroom and the sports activities in the afternoon, the bond and friendship you form with all of the children is magical. I could see their eyes light up when they’d do something they’d never even attempted before, and their passion for sport and exercise was inspiring. It was a true pleasure watching them have so much fun with us.

The highlights

My ultimate highlight would have to be playing guitar and singing with all the Fijians. Their voices are amazing to listen to and their harmonies come so effortlessly that I’m convinced they’re telepathic. Music just runs in their blood; everyone sings, and they can make instruments out of the most basic materials.

One Saturday we went over to the beach to lie in the sun and swim in the crystal blue sea, and I took my guitar along to practice some songs. I walked down the beach a bit to get a little space and started playing some songs to myself on a log, then out of nowhere a few little village kids came up beside me to listen. One boy picked up some fallen branches and started banging on the coconuts and logs lying around in perfect beat, then the others joined in with no hesitation and no inhibition.

Since returning to ‘real life’ and university in Nottingham, I have thought back to my time in Fiji numerous times. Each time my heart aches a little more for the crystal clear turquoise water, the fresh coconuts and the warm salty smell of the Pacific Ocean. Mostly though, I miss the beautiful smiles and the warm hospitable Fijians who have taught me so much about life and happiness.

Are you interested in volunteering in Fiji?

Maggie will be leading a one-month youth and sports volunteer project to remote Fijian primary schools as part of Fijian Charity, Think Pacific Foundation in summer 2018.  The project is open to all university students and graduates from the University of Nottingham.  Find out more about volunteering in Fiji next summer here. 

Want to know more? Come along to a presentation on Tuesday 21 November, 6.30-7.30p, A40, The Sir Clive Granger Building or join us for Spotlight On: International Internships and Volunteering on Wednesday. 

Posted in Volunteering