Eric Zhao - Care & Community Village Project in Fiji
Bula! My name is Eric. I am from Melbourne, Australia. I came on this High School Care and Community Project, accompanied by a close friend of mine in early December, to help the community and have fun. Fiji was amazing to say the least. I learnt amazing things about myself, about cultural diversity and about humanity in general from this trip. I was also lucky to have met so many friendly, unique and selfless people during my time in Nawaka Village. I still find it remarkable how everyone in the village were so friendly and welcoming – always greeting us whenever and wherever with big smiles and ‘BULAs’. A truly remarkable quality for a small community to have.
Even with having a close friend (travel companion), preparation for the trip did get worrisome for me, however, Projects Abroad were very reassuring by providing thorough updates and outlining the details about the arrival process. I immediately felt comfortable with the Projects Abroad Fiji Staff at the airport because it was clear and apparent that it was their main priority that the volunteers were safe, comfortable, and up-to-date with the program. The experience ProjectsAbroad provided was amazing. Two weeks was definitely not enough. At first it took some adjusting to but eventually I, along with the other volunteers, got used to the Fijian lifestyle – like surviving the heat and lack of internet. I am thankful to be able to have been in the position that I was in – living with close friends and a loving host family, whom all made the first few days easier. As well as the support of the coordinators.
Our care placement involved cleaning the school and teaching the students. A typical day began heading to the kindergarten after eating breakfast prepared by our host families. There, as well as in our own time, we co-ordinated/planned what we did for that day. Your supervisor were only there for guidance, the volunteers had to plan each day themselves. So being able to take initiative was a great skill to learn. As each day progressed and as we got to know the kids more, it became easier to know what the kids wanted to learn and focus on. Most kids in the village prioritise sports over education (they all dreamed of being rugby stars), so having the opportunity to change some of their minds about school and their future through fun learning was worthwhile.
And after lunch, we’d meet back at school to do some community work: cleaning and fixing the school premise. It was dreadful doing all of this in the heat, but it was satisfying knowing it helped build a better learning environment.
My accommodations during my time in Nawaka Village were amazing! My host family were incredible and I would not have wanted to stay with anyone else. No doubt. They welcomed my roommates and I with such kind-heartedness, we immediately felt at home. They provided us with appropriate rooms, great food (amazing pancakes), washing, and with clean bottled water. We’d also join them in their daily activities like going to church or having a kava (drink made from plant roots) session with our neighbours. Looking back, I definitely prefer the village life over any hotel. My last day in Fiji, they even surprised me with a birthday party since my birthday was coming up soon. It meant a lot to me to have gotten so close to the family and I will miss them all dearly.
Travelling in Fiji
After the school day and our community work was over, we would all go back to our host families for lunch before we began the activities that the office had coordinated for us. Each day we really looked forward to this because we were able to learn and experience the great things in Fiji. Stuff like the beach, mud pools, town markets, BOHAI, or even just the spare time we got to relax with the family or other volunteers. One of the many highlights of the trip was the trip to Robinson Crusoe Island where we all relaxed, had fun, and got to know everyone even more. Being able to share these moments with new friends definitely made the experience memorable, especially if you have a friend there you know already. I am very grateful for the group I was put in.
This experience is amazing because you have the opportunity to be able to immerse yourself into the Fijian culture by living in the village. You live out each day being able to help others and have fun with many new friends. If you do decide to join, my advice for you is to go out of your comfort zone as much as possible to make the trip more fulfilling. And the people of Nawaka village don’t have the privilege of having some luxuries that you and I may have, so I encourage everyone to appreciate everything that they offer.
And if you’re worried about stuff like “what if I don’t meet other people and I’m alone”. Don’t be. I guarantee you will meet new friends the second you arrive and be surrounded by them for the duration of your stay.
All you need to do is keep a good attitude.
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.