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As you may know, I have recently returned from volunteering in Fiji.
Firstly, I wanted to say a huge thank-you to everyone who donated to my crowdfunding campaign. Your generosity certainly helped me to achieve my goal of bringing healthcare to Fijians.
I warmly invite you to brew yourself a cup of your favourite tea (or coffee, or something stronger!) pop your feet up, and enjoy this brief account of my time in Fiji.
August 4th to 18th, 2018 will certainly be remembered as a pivotal time in my life.
From the moment I arrived at Nadi airport, I felt like I was tapping into a new part of myself. And now that I’m home, I realise I have the volunteering bug!
Our wonderful volunteer group came together through the hard work of Lauren and Brian at Involvement Volunteers International (IVI).
The team consisted of fourteen people from across the globe – a powerful combination of naturopaths, nurses, nutritionists, nutrition students, and a teacher. We all had one common goal in mind – to bring healthcare to Fijians.
You see, Fiji has the highest death rate from diabetes in the world. The International Diabetes Federation says the prevalence of diabetes in Fijian adults was 15% last year. It also says the proportion of undiagnosed cases last year was 53%. Something has to change. Reference: Involvement Volunteers International.
After a welcome BBQ in Lautoka, we were allocated into three teams. Our first assignment was to work in a hillside village.
Our group of five bonded on the five hour drive from Lautoka. Our brilliant co-ordinator and fellow naturopath, Jules Galloway, briefed us on our working week in the village. And it quickly became apparent that we were now on “Fiji time”….meaning let go of your current notion of time and planning, and learn to go with the flow! Fiji time, I like you a lot!
We were welcomed into this beautiful hillside community with open arms. On our first evening, our host family made us feel right at home, and we enjoyed a delicious meal of local fish, vegetables and homemade coconut milk. We went to bed fairly early in preparation for a big day of volunteering.
CUE 4.45AM WAKE UP CALL!!! The local rooster gang kicked into gear, and made sure we didn’t sleep in! After the day one wake up call, I soon became used to the sights and sounds of the household and village starting the day….our hostess grating coconut at 6am to make fresh milk, village dogs barking, children playing, and the most magical sunrises over the valley.
Our time in the village involved doing plenty of health checks for the local people. Our health check stations were set up on the front verandah. Our team worked in unison, measuring BMI, recording blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
The Fijian people always greeted us with such warm smiles, and didn’t mind having to wait in line. The time pressures and sense of urgency we seem to regularly encounter back in Australia don’t exist in Fiji.
We also went to local schools and spoke to students and teachers about health and nutrition, with a focus on reducing sugar intake. We were always welcomed with the warmest hospitality. The home economics students prepared morning tea for us, and made us the most gorgeous flower garlands. At one village school children sang to us in the most beautiful voices, and some of the children performed a traditional dance. There was some serious goose bump action going on here!
On our last day, a few of the local village women and kids took us on a plant and herb walk, and showed us how they use the local plants as medicines. This is grassroots medicine at its finest – often plants are used for acute care, such as to alleviate pain or reduce inflammation. Needless to say we herbalists were in Fijian plant medicine heaven!
The second week of volunteering was in Suva. After the tranquility of Tonia village, Suva seemed super busy. Cars? I’d become used to giving way to chickens!
Our work in Suva involved performing health checks, and conducting health talks in various communities with a charitable organisation which provides services and support to around 800 families (mostly women and children) who have little or no income.
As soon as we entered the first group, the strong sense of community was obvious. Each community has its own gathering place, where meetings are held and people come together to support one another.
The work in the communities was wonderfully rewarding, as well as very challenging at times. We banded together and did our best to help out. We saw people whose BMI, blood pressure and blood glucose readings were dangerously high. And transferred several people to local doctors.
We talked to people about health and nutrition, especially the importance of reducing sugar, and of increasing water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and exercise.
The week in Suva seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, it was almost time to return to Melbourne.
Well, that almost concludes my little post about Fiji! But before I sign off, I’d like to mention a couple of the highlights:
- Fijians have such a strong sense of family and community, and one thing I noticed is that people make time to talk to one another, and to give one another a helping hand. After dinner, we all sat around and talked. There was no TV to watch in Tonia village. Neighbours would pop in for a chat. And everyone in the village and communities, look out for one another. One of the locals mentioned to me that no-one is ever lonely in their community.
- Highlight number two is the amazing connections I made during my time in Fiji. The group of volunteers in Fiji are a wonderful bunch of people. We worked super hard, and we laughed……a lot! We made new friends and created our own little volunteer community.
Two weeks is a small window in time to spend in a place, but meeting so many incredible people, and working in a country like Fiji has certainly given me the impetus to volunteer again. I’m confident that with the continued work of volunteer organisations such as IVI, that positive change can occur in Fiji.