Catherine Gryffenberg has been volunteering in Fiji this summer. Here’s what she had to say about adapting to life in a Fijian community and some of the highs and lows of immersing into a different culture:
A Fijian community is the warmest environment I’ve ever been welcomed into. Upon arriving in my village and being 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’.
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 brothers and sisters!
|The volunteers with their Fijian families|
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.
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!
|Time to dance!|
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).
|The children loved to learn|
The change of diet and making peace with the ‘pit toilet’ were my biggest hurdles and probably my biggest achievement after the project. There were definitely days where a lie in would have been welcome, as well as an afternoon off to play in the river, but these thoughts were quickly rectified when we were greeted by all the students who were so eager to have us there!
|Catherine’s Fijian sibling bathing outside|
The fact that the project is bespoke to our team has made it quite spectacular. I felt honoured to be shown around the villages sacred burial caves and to be accompanied by the children to see some of the impressive local waterfall and the mighty sand dunes on the Saturday excursions.
The nature of Fijian tradition was wonderful to share and I was fortunate to spend my birthday with the entire village. It was a day filled with feasting, kava and hop-hop!
|Catherine with some children in the village|
It was a magical experience and one that I will never forget.