Jennifer Nguyen - Care & Community in Fiji
When I flew into Fiji, I did not know what to expect. It was the first time I had ever travelled on my own and it was my first time in the South Pacific. I am an 18 year-old student - what am I doing here?
Travelling to Fiji
There is not much to do on a lonely 20-hour flight, so thoughts had been racing through my mind. Despite my good friend, Google, helping me find out more about Fiji, nothing was certain. What are the local customs? Will the people be open-minded? Will I meet friendly people? Will they like me? Will my help make any difference? Thoughts, thoughts, doubts, doubts…
However, these doubts certainly eluded my mind the second I was arrived in the country. The citizens seemed to have no worries, no pains, just happiness. We all know that this statement is not entirely true. These people had worries, pains and hardships, but they continued to smile. They smile because they power through hardships; they find the happiness in pain. Looking back, I think that was the first lesson that I learnt in Fiji. Too many of us dwell on such trivial problems without realizing that our lives revolve around so much more than that minute drawback.
My host family
My host family was the strongest family that I have ever encountered. My host mother was kind and caring. She had the patience of a mother. This point seems so insignificant, but I cannot express the tenderness of this woman. I miss her food - she made great food. Real food!
My host siblings also seemed to enjoy her food, so I must have been perfectly introduced to authentic Fijian cuisine. I remember my host brothers running as supper was being laid out on the table. They were not hungry yet, but they saw that I had had a tiring day, and so they recited their prayers so that I could eat, and then they ran away to play with their toy cars. The young boys, as well as their two older sisters would brighten up any day. The kids possessed this quality that is so rare in children nowadays: humility. Every day was okay as long as they had each other. The importance of materials was unknown to them. The importance of others was all they could see. This family was the basis of my home in Nadi. These people were the foundation of my happiness in Fiji.
On my first day at the kindergarten, I was a little surprised by the state of the children. These children were so happy. Once again, their smiles and laughter stemmed from humility. They unconsciously realised that, despite their conditions at home, they had friends and education. All the volunteers were removing the chairs and tables so as to put down a brand new carpet for the children. Some of these tiny children grabbed the legs of the chairs I was carrying, and carried them with me. Despite their young age, the kids had so much love to give, so many laughs to share, and so much happiness to spread. These children have smiles that will stay forever in my heart.
It is impossible for me to think of Fiji without picturing the beautiful Emi. She was the group’s supervisor. I could not have asked for a better person to look after us. Emi was so understanding and showed so much support when we where going through any difficulty. If we got hurt, she would be the first person there. If I had any trouble, she would be the first one I would call. If we had fun, she would also be the one by our side laughing.
I mentioned that I volunteered as part of a group. Most volunteers go alone, and volunteer alone. However, as I did the 2 Week Special, I was lucky enough to experience Fiji with 11 other amazing people. I was expecting to meet people from all over the globe. Little did I know, I would come to love them as well. Unexpectedly, these strangers whom I had met just two weeks prior, grew to be great friends.
The great thing about a closed group is the bond that is created through mutual struggle. We were all terrified of jumping into such a different environment, and such a large project. Oh how we have changed since that first day. Within each and every one of these eleven volunteers, I found compassion and positivity. We found joy in any situation and any circumstance. We worked together in recreating a kindergarten. We worked as one, and I cannot imagine what this trip would have been like without my friends. These people are the ones with whom I have shared the greatest memories in Fiji.
Travelling in Fiji at the weekends
What allowed our group to become so close was certainly our weekend trip to Mana Island. I had never swum in water so blue, in a sea so deep. As the waves moved us, we could perceive the clarity of the blue water down into infinity. Together, we ventured into the unknown of the mountains and the sand. In a heartbeat, night had arrived and we laughed until dawn. The sun rose. From the top of the mountain, I lived every moment of this new day.
Without Projects Abroad I would not have experienced such an amazing two weeks. Fiji had been a destination I had never dreamed of going to. Today, Fiji is a place where I remember nothing but happiness. In Nadi Airport, there is a sign that reads “Welcome Home”. Yes, home. Thank you Fiji for making me feel at home.
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.