Bula!! I’m Becky, and I’m just about to go into my third year studying BSc Geography at the University of Southampton. This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a month in a rural village in the highlands of Fiji. Located in the Pacific Ocean, nearly 10,000 miles away from the UK, completely isolated in the highlands of Fiji and disconnected from the rest of the world, I got to experience what Fijians described as the ‘true Fiji’. Unlike the holiday resorts and tourist hotspots you see advertised, I was fully immersed into a Fijian village, welcomed into a family and such a loving community where we learnt about their culture and traditions. Without the help of Think Pacific and the University’s Study Abroad team, I would never have been able to experience this amazing culture.
I was part of a Youth Empowerment Project with the charity Think Pacific, in the remote village of Nairukuruku in the highlands, two hours away from the capital city of Fiji, Suva. During the three and a half weeks in the village, we took part in workshops exploring five topics: Public Health, Mental Health, Sports, Climate and Environment and Leadership. These workshops took place in the community hall every morning with a group of both volunteers and Fijian ‘youths’ (aged 18 to 30) leading the session. The afternoons were spent learning about village life, culture and traditions in what was known as the ‘Culture Course’ which was led by the Fijian youths. Some of the activities in the Culture Course included visiting the village farm, taking part in traditional kava ceremonies and making handicrafts such as bamboo bracelets, woven bags, woven mats and kava bowls. Another activity was the ‘takitaki’; this is where everyone makes different traditional Fijian meals and the whole village comes together to share everything that has been made. But perhaps everyone’s favourite activity was learning the traditional Fjian dance, the meke. Unique to every village and only performed during special occasions, we were lucky enough to learn our village meke and then perform it during our leaving ceremony in front of the whole village and the chief!!
Weekends were spent exploring the village and the surrounding area, visiting the waterfall and swimming in the river, which was always a favourite activity. During any free time we played with the kids in the village, played sports or spoke with our families and other people in the village, learning about their culture. We were even lucky enough to go watch a rugby match between our province Naitasiri vs Tailevu (which Naitasiri won!!). One Saturday we walked about an hour upriver of the village where the youths taught us how to make ‘bilibilis’ (a bamboo raft) which we then rode down the river back to our village. Another highlight in the village was ‘Nairukuruku’s Got Talent’. After learning the meke and so much about Fijian culture, two of my friends and I decided to display some British culture by performing ABBA’s famous ‘Super Trouper’ song and dance from the film Mamma Mia. This was greatly received and from then on anytime walking through the village the kids would sing the song back to us!!
During our time in Nairukuruku, we created such close bonds and long lasting friendships, which made saying goodbye very difficult. We were shown such kindness and love, being welcomed into the village and their homes with open arms and treated as one of the family. It was such an incredible experience learning about their beautiful country, culture and traditions and creating so many friends along the way. It has been an unforgettable experience that I have learnt so much from. I hope that the youths and the community also learnt lots from us as we built a bridge between our cultures and lives.
Fiji is such an extraordinary place and Nairukuruku and the people who live there will always have a special place in my heart.
Vinaka vakalevu, loloma levu Nairukuruku!