Carly Cullen - General Care Projects in Fiji
Bula Bula! My name is Carly Cullen and I just recently turned 21 years young. I am very excited to be writing about the greatest adventure of my life to date – volunteering in the most beautiful country on this planet, Fiji. To those of you who are considering volunteering, congratulations! It is the most fulfilling and heart-welling experience you will ever know.
I chose to volunteer with Projects Abroad because I wanted to travel and make a difference in the life of another person at the same time. My original summer plan for 2012 was to head home from school to get a silly summer job and do the same things with the same people I have known my whole life.
My roommate, Juliette Chausson, who had previously travelled to Senegal with Projects Abroad in 2009, encouraged me to do my research and look into a programme that would suit my skills and desires. I got in contact with people from my hometown that had gone to Fiji, took part in online information sessions and was constantly in contact with Projects Abroad to learn more about my role as a volunteer. The months flew by and before I knew it I was being dropped off at the airport on July 10th, 2012 to begin my journey to Fiji.
Projects Abroad staff
After spending hours on two different planes I finally landed in Fiji on July 12th, 2012, completely jet-lagged, but overwhelmed with excitement and wonder. Other volunteers landed at the same time my plane was arriving, so we all met with the Fiji staff coordinators, Auntie Meme and Oripa, who took us under their wings right away.
The Fiji staff support was truly incredible and they were so accommodating and supportive. If there is anything that you need at any time, they will be sure to deliver and make you feel as comfortable and at home as you could ever feel. Auntie Meme took me to my host family’s home and stayed with me until she was sure that both my family and I felt comfortable enough with one another to begin settling in. She later arrived and showed me around the town, introduced me to the rest of the staff support team and took me to lunch with another volunteer, Pablo, to get to know each other and learn more about the culture of Fiji.
While I was in Fiji I actually ended up getting sick from strep throat and within minutes of getting a text message from me about how sick I was, Meme arrived and took me to the doctor immediately. Their office doors were always open for us to visit, use internet, grab books and each member of the team put a lot of work into organising weekly socials for the volunteers. They took time from their own families and friends to get to know the volunteers. It was so wonderful and I am so grateful to them all for the love they showed us.
My host family
My host family was a very typical Fijian family – very open, loving, kind and great cooks! My host mother, Mili, was only ten years older than I, so we became very close. Her mother came all the way from Suva for the month just to help around the house while I was visiting. Their home was in the traditional Nadi village, Namotomoto, so whenever I left the house I was to dress in the traditional Fijian way with a sari around my waist.
It was an unbelievable experience having two different worlds live together under one roof and I can honestly say we both learnt quite a lot about each other. Every volunteer was given their own room with a bed and dresser, as well as a safe to store important documents, passports and money. Please remember to do your best to help out around the house when you can, as Fijians treat you more like a guest in the house than a volunteer and someone there to work.
Working at the Care project
My placement was at the Saravi Kindergarten and I was lucky because my host mom was actually the teacher there, so it was an easy adjustment to make having her there for me. The school was not a school, but a barn that was used for school, prayer or community meetings. All of the school supplies were stored in Teacher Ma’s home and the materials needed for the day would need to be transferred from his bedroom to the school.
Saravi was a young school, which opened about a year or so before I had arrived. My host mom and Ma were not trained teachers, but instead took time out of their day each morning to do the best they could with what they had to try to teach the children English. Many of the families in the Saravi village could not afford to send their children to another kindergarten, which is why Saravi kindergarten was born.
The children were amazing; I tear up just thinking about them. Every morning when I arrived to the village each child, and all the parents, would yell, ‘Bula Teacher Carly!’ and run to me for a hug. My duties at Saravi were to assist with teaching the English language, hygiene and community development initiatives.
I was sent to Saravi to work with the children, but I felt as though I worked well with the community as whole. I became close to the mothers and we opened up a lot of discussion about ways for the community to make money to send their children to school and ways to get funding to solidify the expansion and development of the Saravi Kindergarten.
While I was working there with a fellow volunteer, Amina Danieli, an Australian company, that the school was receiving funds from, had decided to cut their funding because of a misunderstanding with the school manager. Being a Westerner it was easier for me to mediate and communicate the frustrations on both ends of the debate and helped to resolve and come to a settlement that suited both parties.
I would say the most important aspect of volunteering in a community setting is to remain patient and to take yourself out of your point of view and actually live the lifestyle and see what important adjustments need to be made so that others can be satisfied with their standard of living.
My free time
Though Fiji was full of hard work, there was also a lot of time for fun! I met many great people from all over the world and each week we would plan trips to the surrounding islands to experience more of the Fijian culture. Travelling in Fiji is easy and all the locals are happy to make conversation with you to learn where you’re from and why you’re visiting.
Each weekly social was developed with thought and care to emphasise the beautiful aspects of the Fijian food, music, culture and people. You can’t help but fall in love with Fiji and it makes volunteering for the people there so much more worth it.
When you live in the conditions that some Fijians live in day-to-day you feel as if you aren’t making any difference at all, but you must remember that you are! Whether you are helping children learn to read, helping buy needed products, or compliment a mother on what a great job she’s doing with her children, each step you take to ensure that they live a better quality of life is so meaningful to them and it will make you a happier, more fulfilled person. Vinaka!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.