Fiji, Leila

Leila Volunteered as a Teacher in Fiji

Living in Fiji has really opened my eyes, it was the first time I have left London to be away from family apart from a couple of short holidays. In Fiji everyone smiles and says “bula” to each other on the street; on my road in England, I would be lucky if I got one ‘hello’ a week!

‘Fiji time’ means that everything is slow-paced, appointments are often not met and people stroll around very slowly in the streets. It’s not rare to find yourself waiting around for someone or something to happen in Fiji. Therefore I can say with confidence that patience is a skill I have really developed. Ironically I have had to be very pro-active during my time at the kindergarten. The teachers used to always say, “have a rest” but I would always go and find something that needed doing. I’m proud to say that I would do my best to find a way to keep busy and I really learnt to use my initiative to get things done! At Nadi Airport Playcentre I assisted staff by helping to organise the classroom in preparation for the morning and afternoon sessions. During class time I supervised children with activities such as puzzles, play-dough, drawing and reading. Art and craft has always been my passion so I regularly helped to design and make teaching props. I also assisted with IT by helping to type up documents, such as newsletters, and encouraged teachers to develop their computer skills, which were fairly basic.

Having completed this placement, I feel more independent and have more faith in myself. I feel like I could take on almost any challenge. Confidence, positivity and open-mindedness are the best tools. As a volunteer of seven months, I really enjoyed learning about the country, the culture and making new friends; I now consider Fiji to be home and my friends to be family. Some of the best things about being a volunteer were when my colleagues thanked me for teaching them something new and useful; when I was told “we’ve really learnt a lot from you”; knowing that I positively influenced the people I worked with; knowing that they will continue some of the practices that I initiated, such as recycling. I was learning new things every day and consistently finding ways to help.

I felt that the more I learned about the kindergarten, the more I could offer them, and the more useful I could be. Making a positive contribution is the best thing about volunteering.

During the two-week school holidays another Lattitude volunteer and I stayed with a Fijian friend’s family in their village. Before every meal the family would pray. Although they spoke in Fijian, we could always hear our names in their prayers. On some occasions, they would even cry. When I asked my friend what was being said, she told me that her parents were praying for us – asking God to bless us, guide us and protect us. When it came to the end of the holiday there were plenty of tears from everyone when we were saying goodbye. Calling them “Mum” and “Dad” and feeling like I was really a part of their family after such a short amount of time is a feeling that I wish I could share with the whole world. On the last night, the entire village had a party for us. I was there for less than two weeks yet I felt so welcomed, there was so much love and so much warmth. I was really moved. No matter how much or how little someone has of something, they will always share it. I honestly cannot describe how warm, genuine and welcoming the people of Fiji are.

Being in Fiji over 10000 miles from the place I call home, I had lots of time to reflect on the person I was and think about the person I would like to be. Living in ‘Fiji time’ has given me a chance to think about the relationships I have, my approach to people, the targets I would like to achieve in the future and my general attitude to life. I’ve learnt about what makes me happy and what makes me sad, I’ve learnt about how I should treat myself and how I should treat others.

Before my trip to Fiji I had planned to have a career working with NGOs or doing community work; although I would like to realise this dream, I have also realised that I don’t necessarily need to be in such a profession to be humanitarian and do good to others. Charity comes from the heart; it’s about attitude. I can always do good to others – I don’t need a paid job to do it.

In Fiji people are softly spoken, considerate, they will explain what their point is and listen to what you have to say; when I went back to the Western way of life, I felt upset by the way some people could speak mindlessly at times. In the West it is not unusual to be judged by the way you look, how your hair is styled, what clothes you wear, how you speak, where you are from, and those things didn’t seem to matter in Fiji. I miss that. Everything is everyone’s and everyone is equal – that’s the way I like living. I will keep this attitude with me.