Bula! My name is Esme and I have just finished my first year studying BSc Biology at the University of Southampton. During this summer I went to Fiji for a month and took part in a volunteer program run by Think Pacific called Youth Empowerment.
I first heard about the opportunity via Facebook and decided to look at Think Pacific’s website. The Youth Empowerment program caught my interest because I loved how it would help me to develop personal skills such as communication and leadership. But, also most importantly how it would be beneficial to the youths of the village (age 18-30) to discuss topics such as mental health, enterprise, leadership, and climate change. Whilst finding out about the program I also found out that Think Pacific had a partnership with the University of Southampton. Because of this I then did some more research on the University of Southampton’s Study Abroad webpage and saw that some funding was available to help with the trip.
I landed in Fiji at the end of June. For the first week of the program all of us volunteers spent time at a resort where we were briefed on the project. The day would be split into morning and afternoon sessions. In the morning we would carry out goal developing sessions, discuss ideas for the workshops that would be running in the village, and the culture and traditions of Fiji. In the afternoons our leaders led team building activities and sports which we all found useful and fun and allowed us to all bond before we entered the village.
My village was in the province of Nadroga-Nevosa which is on the main island of Fiji (Viti Levu). During the week, again the days would be split into morning and afternoon sessions. The day would start at 9am where us volunteers would lead workshops on the different topics. We would run different games and discussions in four different groups to hear about and learn from one another. An example of a discussion was how we all thought issues like climate change could be addressed locally in the village. After lunch back with our families we would all meet for the afternoon cultural session which was led by the youth of the village. They would teach us all about the Fijian culture such as meke dancing, Fijian crafts (basket weaving and bilo making), and my personal favourite, making bilibili rafts which we raced down the Sigatoka River.
Saturday was a day where we could take part in activities with the youth of the village outside of the project. They were a great time to get to know and become friends with the youth. The first Saturday we all went and explored some local caves and took part in a kava ceremony. Another Saturday we went and watched the village rugby team play in Sigatoka, and the following week we held an activities day at the school for the children of the village.
In Fiji Sunday is the day of rest. We would all attend church with our families in the morning and then come back to an amazing lunch which we would eat all together. In the afternoon we would normally play card games with the children and just relax before the next week of volunteering.
I personally gained so much from this experience! It wasn’t just the skills that I gained but also speaking to the village it was so nice to hear that they felt that we left a positive impact there. The main thing that I will take away with me from this trip though is the relationships that were built not just with my fellow volunteers but with my Fijian family and other villagers. You get told before you go into the village that it will become your second home, and truly it does!
I would really recommend this opportunity if you are looking to develop skills such as leadership and public speaking. As well as pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, learning about a new culture and making friendships for life!