Fiji 2010 Report

Vuake is a small village on an island to the north of Fiji‟s mainland in the Yasawa Islands. This region is a popular tourist destination due to its clear blue waters and white, sandy beaches and is a truly beautiful part of the world. However, 24 Australians spent three weeks in Vuake for very different reasons.

Despite the beauty everyone witnessed on the 5 hour boat trip from the Fiji mainland to Vuake, upon arrival in Vuake we realised it would be a tough 3 weeks. No beds, no phones, no electricity for all but a few hours a night and no running water other than that collected in large rainwater tanks. We stayed in a small and very simple school dormitory, and were looked after in all regards by the people of Vuake, some of whom who worked tirelessly for us and with us. The meals provided by a team of local women consisted mostly of rice and fish, but on special occasions we were treated to a feast of pork and exotic seafood such as lobster, octopus and crab. Showers were taken by pouring a bucket of water over yourself from the rain water tanks.

Although the island itself was beautiful, what most amazed us was the local people. They embraced us as family, teaching us all the local customs and inviting us into their lives. Their hospitality ensured we all experienced what one older workcamper described as “the best three weeks of his life.”

The day after arriving in Vuake we began working. The focus of our work was the construction of a school library including a small computer lab. Within three weeks we expected to see the transformation of a basic frame into a fully functional library.

For months beforehand we had been shipping books from Sydney to Vuake, a difficult and long process. All of the books were donated by sponsors of the project, to whom everyone was deeply grateful. Other sponsors, such as the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay and HP Computers, provided computers and a printer.

The building of the library was carried out in a uniquely Fijian way. Ladders and scaffolding were constructed on-site from the timber available. But the library volunteers, led by Monty, affectionately christened “Grandpa” by the locals, completed the library on the final working day.

The group also undertook the task of refurbishing three other classrooms at the school which had not been painted in 30 years. The locals were keen for us to paint the school green as the local Church was named after St. Patrick. A team of workers set about painting and cleaning up the classrooms which had been recently damaged in a December hurricane.

After several difficulties in the first week with supplies, which could only be obtained by a 5 hour boat ride, the work progressed quickly. The two smaller classrooms were finished in a week and a half, while the larger building required two weeks The final result was quite spectacular. A few members of the school board could barely hold back tears upon looking at the transformation of their school.

The Summer Camp was a slightly smaller task than the library and classrooms, though it certainly required more energy. The camps popularity increased quickly in the first few days through word of mouth. The aim was to involve the children of the village in activities aimed at developing language and technological skills, through activities such as watching English movies and computer tutorials, as well as keeping them occupied with outdoor games in the mornings. It was also an important part of the project as it developed great relationships between the local Fijian children and the volunteers.

In fact, the best aspect of the camp was our relationship with the people of Vuake. Some of the older locals such as Emosi and Jim, with whom we worked and spent a lot of time, were always helpful, cheerful and treated us like family. However, it is unfair to mention only a few locals because all of the people of Vuake forged places in the memories of the volunteers. The ceremony upon our arrival was done literally to make us part of “the Vuake family”. The locals were always keen to help us out and their smiling faces and positive attitude provided us with inspiration and motivation to get into the work every day. While they were extremely grateful for our help, we also felt obliged to show our gratitude to them, particularly to the dedicated team of women who worked all day and much of the night to prepare food and even wash some of our clothes. They gave us all an amazing example of hard work.

Every volunteer had a special encounter with the local culture, which all Fijians take very seriously. We had to make a big effort to ensure that during our stay we honoured this. A fundamental part of Fijian culture is the “kava ceremony”. Formal kava ceremonies are quite solemn and everyone was obliged to have at least one bowl of kava, a drink made from the root of the kava tree. While kava ceremonies were enjoyable as we were able to mix with the locals, drinking kava itself is not for a sensitive palate.

Every afternoon the locals in the parish would get together for afternoon tea, providing a great opportunity to talk to them. Their cheerfulness and good humour was contagious, with some members of the group commenting that they would at times find themselves laughing with the Fijians despite not even understanding the conversation. Another important way of mixing with the people was playing touch rugby with them. We played every afternoon on a paddock next to the village and were put to shame time and time again as the Fijian’s ran rings around us.

The three weeks in Vuake left an enormous impact on each member of the group. The friendliness, cheerfulness and generosity of the Fijians was amazing considering they lived such simple lifestyles. Saying goodbye was the hardest part of the camp and the only way to remedy the sadness seemed to come from saying, “I’ll be back next year.” It was an unforgettable trip which will be remembered for the rest of our lives as one of the happiest and most rewarding experiences possible.

John Paul Hinojosa (Director)
Rowan Light
Aiden Williams
Daniel Elias
Raphael Saccasan
Joe Hopkins
Tony Montgomery
Angus Jones
Dominic Hanson
James Watson
Joe Watson
Miguel Hinojosa
Seb Burfitt
Andrew Beard
Sam Shearer
Sam Vieira
Dennis Cheung
Timothy Tabuteau
Fr. Anton Borras (Chaplain)
Pat Burfitt
Gabe Perrottet
Simon Carrington
Josh Byrne
Matt Donnelly

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