Tegan Curwood - General Care Projects in Fiji
Volunteering overseas had always been a goal of mine. Since my teenage years, I have dreamed of the day I would have the opportunity to make a difference, share my time and hopefully do some good in this world. I finished school, took a gap year, graduated from university and began my career in nursing. Although nursing can be a very rewarding career, I had faced some hardships in the last few years and I came to a point where I was lacking inspiration within many aspects of my life.
After months of brainstorming and planning a holiday overseas, I scrapped all my plans of travel and decided to follow my dream of volunteering instead. That decision was by far the best choice of my life to date. My aim was to do something for others; I really did not expect it to have such a positive impact on my own life.
Choosing Projects Abroad was an easy decision for me. I had done some research and found that they were one of the more reputable organisations to volunteer overseas with. I made an appointment to meet with a Projects Abroad team member at their office. After discussing my options and hearing stories about the team member’s personal experiences, I left that meeting knowing that they were the organisation for me.
I highly recommend Projects Abroad for your overseas volunteering experience, as they were able to provide phenomenal support during the whole experience; I never felt alone or unorganised and actually consider the Projects Abroad Fiji team as family.
Travelling to Fiji
There is nothing you can really do to prepare yourself for the moment you step off the plane in your volunteer destination. Just be ready to embrace the unknown, which for me was a scary but exciting feeling. One of the many benefits of Projects Abroad, and something that gave me a feeling of ease, was that I knew as soon as I arrived I would be met at the airport by a friendly staff member who would then introduce me to my host family.
In my first few days, I felt overwhelmed and inundated with a mixture of emotion, but it took only a few days for me to feel completely settled and at home. Some aspects that really helped me settle in was the welcome from other volunteers who introduced me to life in Fiji, the fact that I was immediately accepted into my host family as one of their own and of course, the beautiful children at my placement.
My Care placement
Working with children has always been a passion of mine, which is why the Care Project caught my eye. Fijians are truly the most incredible people, and this starts from a very young age! The children are so full energy and enthusiasm and it is refreshing to be around them. My days consisted of spending my mornings in the Salvation Army – Tiny Tots Kindergarten and the afternoons in the year 5/6 class at Ratu Nalukuya Primary School. Every single morning and afternoon when I would arrive at each placement, I would be greeted by excited and thankful children shouting ‘Miss Tegan’ and hugging me like they were never going to see me again.
In the kindergarten, each day we followed a pretty regular schedule. The kids would have time to play and do crafts (which focused on that week’s theme for learning), then they would pack up and we’d sit in a circle for devotion before washing hands and eating. After lunch, we would sit back in the circle and do some reading and singing and then if there was time the kids would do a sports activity, which involved balls or running. At the school, they also followed a set structure for each day. At the end of each day, it was good to see that the children would take charge of their own clean up.
My favourite moments at school were the singing lessons and my daily bus line walks. The kids in the year 5/6 class really inspired me; they constantly wanted to know about my family, job, sport and just every detail about my life in Australia. Whilst each day had structure, what I loved most about each day is that they were never ever the same. Each day we were able to teach the children something new, or (unknowingly at the time) they would teach me something about myself.
Challenges and advice for future volunteers
Something that I initially found quite challenging was adjusting to the fact that schooling in Fiji is very different to home. The structure is different and the behaviour and expectations are different. It was an important challenge that helped me to think more deeply and by the end of my placement I had gained a greater understanding and appreciation of the differences.
It’s important to keep an open mind about what to expect with your accommodation and cultural experience. It all really comes down to your attitude and willingness to embrace the opportunity you’ve been granted with. I personally had a fantastic experience at my accommodation; prior to going over there, I would refer to myself living with my ‘host family’.
After 8 weeks with them, there was no need to say ‘host’ anymore because they actually became my family. I was blessed to be placed with an amazing Fijian family of Indian descent. This meant I was lucky enough to embrace two remarkable cultures whilst teaching them a little about my own. My mum was a super cook and my host dad is a chef, so myself and the other volunteers were always provided with scrumptious meals three times a day.
The wonderful thing about volunteering overseas is that you are not only immersed into the culture and way of life of the country you are in, but during your free time you can just be a tourist… with the benefits of having that local knowledge. Volunteering with Projects Abroad makes it easy to make friends. You will become lifelong friends with people from all around the world and what is amazingly unique about the friendships is you have shared an unbelievable experience together. I can honestly say I’m not just grateful for my volunteering experience, but also for the friends I made along the way.
My tip for future volunteers would be to go into this with an open mind and to let the experience change you as much as you want to change the life of others. What you should realise is that just being there brings so much happiness to these children, so my advice would be to go there and put your absolute all into it, do whatever you can to give/get the most out of a truly life changing experience.
Whilst you’re there you won’t realise the impact that you’re having, it’s not until the journey is over that you realise how much every little thing you do is appreciated. I honestly never ever expected that volunteering in Fiji would be exactly what I needed to get my groove back, but it did, and it affected my life in so many ways that I will forever be grateful.
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.