University JourneyVolunteering

Fiji life: My honest experience

Catherine Gryffenberg has been volunteering in Fiji in Summer 2017.

She decided to share her honest experience from volunteering on Fiji. Catherine tells us what she learnt while staying in a small village and how she needed to adapt to the new life in a Fijian community. She shares some of the highs and lows of her stay and how she immersed herself into a different culture.

Life on Fiji

A Fijian community is the warmest environment I’ve ever been welcomed into. Upon arriving in my village I was sandwiched into the arms of my Fijian mum, dad and siblings. I could tell it wouldn’t take long to for me to call this ‘my home’.

Catherine with her Fijian family
Catherine with her Fijian family

The lifestyle couldn’t be more different to what I was used to, but isn’t that half the charm?

The water tank became the social hub in the morning with all the village children bounding over to say “Bula!” (wishing happiness and good health) amidst teeth brushing and water bottle filling.

Before long I was spending dinner with my cousins and nephews and introducing the other people in the team to my new brothers and sisters!

Volunteering experience

My volunteering with children was amazing. The school was incredibly enriching and the gratitude from the children we worked with was humbling. Each child had a phenomenal enthusiasm to spend additional time with volunteers learning, playing sport or just getting to know us. 

The volunteers with their Fijian families
The volunteers with their Fijian families
Fiji Learning outdoors
Learning outdoors
Learning outdoors with beautiful views on Fiji
Learning outdoors with beautiful views
Fiji Children learning from volunteers - they loved to learn!
Children learning from volunteers – they loved to learn!

Investing time on a one-to-one basis was all the more special and rewarding after seeing the expression on a student’s face when they finally feel confident in the topic you have been teaching them that week. A special part of the day was the sports sessions. The children loved seeing some of their teachers let loose during our week of dance! 

Learning Fijian dance moves.
Learning Fijian dance moves.

I have always enjoyed being around children and I thrived on the energy of the class – especially when we had to get creative with our teaching of ‘phonics’ (a technique to teach language).

Some lows

Despite reading about Fijian village life, nothing can really equip you with just how tough it can be. The beauty of these challenges on Fiji were how they brought me closer to my Fijian family and fellow team members (these people end up becoming your only home comforts). 

Making peace with the ‘pit toilet’ and changing my diet were my biggest challenges and probably my biggest achievements after the project. There were definitely days where a lie in would have been welcome . Or the whole afternoon off to play in the river. But I quickly rectified these thoughts when we were greeted by all the students who were so eager to have us there!

Catherine's Fijian sibling bathing outside
Catherine’s Fijian sibling bathing outside

The heights of adventure

The fact that the project was bespoke to our team has made it quite spectacular.

I feIt was an honour to be shown around the village’s sacred burial caves, as well as to be taken by the local children to see some of the impressive waterfalls and mighty sand dunes on the Saturday excursions. The nature of Fijian tradition was wonderful to share. I was fortunate to spend my birthday with the entire village. It was a day filled with feasting, kava and hop-hop! 

It was a magical experience and one that I will never forget.

Catherine with Fijian children in the village
Catherine with Fijian children in the village
Blog Administrator. Currently ran by co-author Emilia Denis. Emilia has studied Fashion Communication and Promotion at NTU between years 2017 and 2020.

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