Chelsea Fisher - Nutrition in Fiji
Once I decided that I wanted to volunteer I had no idea how to begin the process, until I came across Projects Abroad. I have BS degrees in Exercise Science and Psychology and have been interested in getting into a dietetics graduate programme. With that, I knew that I would like to take part in a project dealing with nutrition. That is how I found myself in Fiji. I had two months in total to spend in what I had always heard to be paradise.
From the start Projects Abroad was extremely helpful. With the guidance of a volunteer advisor, I was assisted on the application process, all of the required documentation, flights and itinerary, visa questions, as well as, advise for travel. I left home within a month of initially finding Projects Abroad online and everything went very smoothly.
Arriving in Fiji
I was greeted at the airport by a staff member who then took me to my host family. I arrived in Fiji on elections day, the first election in ten years due to a military coup. So upon arriving at my host family, I was shown to my room and instructed that I should not plan to leave the house for the day. With that, I spent my first day in my new room, in a different country, completely exhausted from travel and unsure of what I had gotten myself into. Fortunately, I soon had no doubts of my decision.
My four weeks on the Nutrition project went very fast. Overall, I loved the experience. Rosan, the project advisor, is an amazing guy and was very easy to get along with, as were the other volunteers. The project was fairly new when I arrived so it was a work in progress. This, for me, made it challenging at first.
I can recommend that bringing a laptop or at the very least a tablet of some sort would be beneficial (also good for social aspects and contacting home; Wi-Fi available at the office or if you buy something you can get the password at Bounty Restaurant, a convenient two minute walk from my host placement!).
Although I was unable to make any major contributions to the project in terms of new ideas, I played a role in the existing programme. Much of my time was spent going into the public schools around Nadi and providing free health checks to the teachers. This included taking and recording their name, height, weight and waist measurements; also blood pressure and blood sugar readings. From there we would task to them about their lifestyle and health; and introduce to them the ‘kana vinaka/healthy eating challenge” and exercise programmes. I was fortunate to come at a time where a school was seeing the results from their dedication to healthier eating and their commitment to our after school workouts with them. I also was able to start the process with 3 other schools
Other tasks being carried out were the creation of lesson plans for various educational levels that would be submitted to the Ministry of Health to be eventually implemented in the schools and the creation of videos to demonstrate stretching and various work outs. The aim of the exercise programmes that we were introducing was to show them that a gym membership is not necessary to be able to exercise. Along with body weight exercises, we would use water bottles or even textbooks as weights and an empty classroom as our “gym”.
My experience volunteering was so much more than just the project itself. These 4 weeks would not have been the same without the influence of my host family, the other volunteers and the Projects Abroad staff.
I am glad to know that I will always have family in Fiji! They were very warm and welcoming. I was able to learn so much about the Fijian culture from them. I also could not have gotten a better roommate to spend my time with. An amazing German girl with the greatest personality who I am certain I will stay in touch with, as well as see again soon.
Being from the United States, such a large country, I expected to meet many other American volunteers. However, this was not the case. I was one of few volunteers from the US. Most volunteers were from European countries. It was so nice for me to meet and make friends with all of these wonderful people from so many different countries. Now I am certain that in the near future I will extend my travels and plan a backpacking trip throughout Europe in order to visit my many new friends!
It was very easy for us to contact each other and make plans to meet in the evenings or plan trips to various islands on the weekends. As for the Projects Abroad staff, I did not get to spend a lot of time with every staff member, but the few that I got to know very well were not only great at assisting us as volunteers but were also great in extending their friendship.