Bula! I’m Steph and I’ve just completed my final year of studying Biomedical sciences at the University of Southampton. This summer I was fortunate enough to become a part of the Youth Empowerment Project with Think Pacific, with the help of the University’s Study Abroad team. The experience was unforgettable!

The project involved spending four weeks living in the rural village of Wailotua, Fiji, working as part of a team to deliver workshops to the Fijian youth (aged 18-35). Our goal was to contribute to the development initiatives in Fiji in partnership with the Fijian government.

The workshops were my favourite part of the experience. They gave us an opportunity to spend time with the Fijian youth, to learn about their culture and make life-long friendships.   Each day the workshops began at 9am and lasted through to 1pm, they involved discussion of topics such as public health, mental health, sports development, environment, and climate. We also delivered sessions to exercise the youth’s leadership and enterprise skills. I was able to present the public health and sports development workshops, discussing relevant health topics in Fiji and encouraging exercise through making games and physical challenges.

The youth of Wailotua.
The youth of Wailotua.
Wailotua, Fiji

The first thing I noticed upon arriving into the village was the welcoming and friendly faces of the villagers. We were welcomed into the village with a kava ceremony. Kava (also known as grog) is a drink made by pounding sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, then straining and mixing it with water. It is served in a large communal bowl placed in front of the village chief, which us guests sat around and would then drink the grog together.

Straining the Kava

After we were welcomed into the village, we were each greeted by our new Fijian parents who would be looking after us for the next month. I joined the family of two incredible parents who had five beautiful children along with another volunteer who I called my sister. Our family worked hard in the farm to cook us meals each day, mainly involving cassava, taro, fish, and rice. The food was delicious, but the best part was being able to sit around the food (on the ground) with the family; sharing different stories and laughing over our two-year-old brother who was always running around us as we ate!

My beautiful Fijian family!
My house was called Navau.
Dinner time!
Fijian breadfruit (left) and cassava (right)

Another highlight of my experience would be the culture courses presented to us by the Fijian youth after the workshops. Bilbili rafting was incredible! This is a traditional Fijian raft handmade from bamboo and steered with a long bamboo stalk. We raced down the Wainbuka River which was right by our village. Our raft was meant to hold around eight of us, however it fell apart, leaving us very wet!

Bilibili rafting

Voivoi weaving was also an enjoyable part of our culture course. This involved transforming a sun-dried Voivoi leaf into a beautifully weaved mat, bracelet, or fan. This was a wholesome experience as I got to sit down with my Fijian mother who taught me how to weave.

Traditional weaving
Iri (Fijian fans), my great aunt and my sister

Towards the end of our cultural courses, a few of the Fijian youth taught us the Meke. This is a traditional Fijian style of dance which combines dance with storytelling. We practiced four different routines and performed it to the village with the youth singing different Fijian songs. Our families made us costumes for our big performance, painted our faces and covered us in baby powder. We also had sweets put in our mouths as we danced! It was so much fun and a lovely way of displaying our appreciation of the Fijian culture.

Ready for the Meke!

My time in Fiji was an incredible, life-changing experience. It was an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and live a completely different way of life, immersing myself into the beautiful Fijian culture. My project was made by the different characters I met along the way- everyone was so kind and welcoming, and it was so sad to say goodbye at the end of my trip. However, I always know that one day I’ll go back to visit as I now have another home in Fiji.

Vinaka (thank you) for the most unforgettable time, Fiji!

Fresh coconuts!
Exploring the limestone cave which neighboured our village and supplied its water
Mud fight!

Think Pacific – Youth Empowerment 2023

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