Fiji, a tropical paradise famous for its beautiful beaches and clean oceans, is home to vibrant communities that are deeply rooted in their culture and traditions. It’s a place where the warmth of the people matches the heat of the sun. This summer, I had the rare opportunity to experience Fiji beyond the tourist brochures.
Bula! Qu yaca o William, and I’ve just completed my final year of studying Biochemistry at the University of Southampton. For the month of August, I was part of a community building project deep within the heart of mainland Fiji, in the remote village of Draubuta. This was a place so isolated that it was completely disconnected from the outside world, with no mobile signal for miles around. Thanks to the Think Pacific leaders and the University’s Study Abroad team for turning my dream trip into a reality.

Our mission? To construct a sustainable community health centre in collaboration with the Fijian Ministry of Health. This project had a twofold purpose. Firstly, it aimed to equip community health workers with the necessary facilities to carry out medical assessments, store medications, and provide healthcare services to the local residents. Secondly, it sought to empower and impart valuable carpentry and construction skills to the youth of the community, aged 18 to 30, ensuring a legacy of expertise and self-sufficiency.

The Warmth of Fijian Hospitality in Draubuta
In Draubuta, we didn’t just build a health centre; we built connections and friendships that will last a lifetime. We were all welcomed into the homes of the villagers, who accepted us as one of their own as we became part of their families. My fellow volunteer, Paddy, and I were lucky enough to stay with the village’s chief and his wife, alongside their warm and welcoming family. Included in this was my new niece, Aggie, with her infectious energy and humour never failing to make me laugh throughout the entire trip.

Building a Healthier Future for Draubuta
The construction section of our volunteer endeavour provided me with a lot of satisfaction. What impressed me the most was the tangible result of our efforts. Seeing the raw, locally supplied materials transform into a working health centre was extremely fulfilling. Working with the local community and other volunteers created a sense of unity and common purpose that crossed boundaries of language and culture. It was a monument to the strength of teamwork. Furthermore, the use of sustainable building techniques aligned with my environmental beliefs, highlighting the value of responsible construction practices. Overall, the satisfaction we received from building the dispensary was an amazing feeling, and seeing the appreciation of our efforts from the villagers was something I’ll never forget.

Cultural Immersion in Draubuta
Beyond our construction work, our days in Draubuta were filled with cultural immersion. One of my favourite aspects of the experience was the culture course presented by five of the village’s youth. They provided us with the opportunity to learn about the Fijian way of life and ask questions about their culture and traditions. The workshops began at 9:30 a.m. each day and lasted until midday, teaching us through hands-on activities. Through this course, we participated in traditional kava ceremonies, cooked traditional meals, visited neighbouring farms, learnt about the different religions in the village, and listened to the stories of the villagers. It was a window into the Fijian way of life that was both humbling and enriching.

My favourite day of the culture course was when we all set out in the morning to hike up a mountain to plant 300 trees as part of a national nature program supported by the Fijian Government, REDD+ Fiji, and the Fijian Ministry of Forestry, with the end goal of planting one million trees in three years. The feeling of contributing to something greater than ourselves was both fulfilling and inspiring—a testament to the impact that collective effort can have on the environment and our future.

Team Photo After Planting 300 Trees!

Leaving a Legacy in Draubuta
As my time in Draubuta came to an end, I couldn’t help but think about the real impact of our community build project. It wasn’t just about putting up a health centre; it was about building bridges between cultures, giving the local youth new skills, and leaving behind a legacy of better healthcare for the whole village.

Draubuta, with its complete lack of cell phone signal, showed us the importance of taking a break from our screens and truly connecting with people and places that matter. Without the health centre we built, the nearest one would still be a three-hour carrier journey away, underscoring just how important our project was. It was more than just construction; it was a journey filled with compassion, teamwork, and the enduring spirit of Fiji. Vinaka vakalevu Draubuta, for this life-changing experience.

In the end, Fiji will forever hold a special place in my heart, with Draubuta and its people being a cherished part of that unforgettable journey.

Building a Healthier Future in Fiji: My Unforgettable Build Project in Draubuta

William Walker

Recent University of Southampton Biochemistry Graduate.

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