Annabel, Bethan and Fellow Bristol University Students Return From Fiji
Read the Stories of two Bristol University Students Who Spent Their Summer Volunteering in Fiji
Almost 20 Bristol Students Made an Difference in Fiji Through Education & Sports across Summer 2017
Second Year Bristol University Students, Annabel & Bethan, have just returned from a month-long student volunteer project in the jungle highlands of Fiji with the local based charity and Student Volunteer Organisation, Think Pacific.
Inspired to gain global experience and make a difference abroad, the girls plus numerous fellow Bristol students applied to join the summer student mobility project following a talk hosted by Bristol Law Student & Think Pacific expedition leader, Maddie Nugent.
The Think Pacific Project is run in partnership with the Fijian Government and supports remote schools in Fiji. The aim is to empower disadvantaged children to overcome poverty issues and achieve holistic health. Annabel & Bethan joined a team of students from across the UK and together they delivered early years’ education support, primary school assistance, daily sports coaching, and basic health promotion, whilst living with local families in a traditional Fijian village. The project also aims to develop the confidence, leadership skills and cultural awareness of university students.
Reflecting on the her experiences in Fiji, Annabel & Bethan share…
Annabel Reflects on a “Life-Changing Experience…”
Annabel Rushton, Bristol Uni, Childhood Studies, 2nd Year Student
“What I loved About Village Life…
Arriving in the village was so surreal, I couldn’t believe how welcoming people were and we got straight into it by entering a Kava ceremony in the village hall. I remember looking around at the villagers thinking I wonder who will be my family. We then got told who was going to be in our family and everyone was then taken off to their houses. Suddenly we were into it and it all happened so quickly it was hard to take it all in. Our family were so lovely, they immediately brought tea and crackers out for us and showed us our room, they had given up their double beds for us, which we were amazed by. I feel I settled in quite quickly, and I think the warmth of the family helped me to.
The Impact We Made…
We worked in two very different schools, and after the first week of teaching we then saw children engaging more with the activities. I worked in kindi for two weeks, and loved it, the children loved the games and songs that we taught them, but they also loved showing us their Fijian songs and they just want your attention the whole time! The highlight for me was the sport, some of the children just had so much talent in sports they had never played and throughout the morning they would say to you, ‘Miss volleyball, yes volleyball today’ – they were so excited!
The Highlight of My Time in Fiji…
The highlight of the whole experience was living with and being a part of the families. I really felt it was a privilege to be part of their life, and I hated leaving them so much, that I plan to definitely go back and visit them. They really are some of the kindest people and the community in the village was so great!
Reflecting on my Experience…
The experience has changed my view on a few things, it’s made me more grateful for things in my life but also that I can live without things, like my phone. Not being able to contact home and friends was one of the best things, I loved not going on social media, etc, and the Fijians proved to me that just spending time with people is far more important and fun than being on my phone! I just loved my time there!”
“Attempting To Pick a Highlight is Impossible”
Bethan Richardson, History, Bristol Uni, 2nd Year Student
“Mavua village is incredible; a stunningly beautiful village housing a very close and friendly community. The Fijian people are warm and welcoming: everyone’s door is always open, they greet everyone who passes them (no matter how many times they see them), and there are always multiple offers of food from everyone in the village. The open nature and closeness of the community was certainly something to envy and something I have tried to bring home with me.
From the very start we were embraced with open arms. Any nerves that we had from that first day quickly disappeared as we got to know our families, got to know the other villagers and grew closer as a team. I personally could not have asked for a better host family. Mere, my Lewa was an amazing woman, with a big heart and great sense of humour, who was very proud of her country and of her two daughters from England and Wales. Mala, my Tou, was always laughing, singing, dancing or telling jokes; it was never a quiet house when he was around.
And as for my siblings, Ana (16) and Ura (18), they were the best kids. Over the four weeks I became very close with my Fijian family, and when it came to saying goodbye (or sota tale) all of us were fighting back tears.
But not only do you become close with your family in Fiji but the children of the village also. They were so excited to have us in the village and always wanted to play with us or join in with what we were doing, despite not having any small siblings I was often out playing with the younger children. They did make me laugh; every day after working in the village kindi, the children would all walk me home and sing their ‘goodbye song’ on repeat before heading back to their own homes. I do feel, however, that I owe an apology to the parents in the village. Perhaps too early into our project did I express an interest in Fijian handshakes and try to teach some of the children ones from back home… which did lead to relentless chanting of ‘double double’, ‘my name is’, and ‘ABC together’ for the following three weeks. (Sorry parents!)
Whenever I’ve told someone that I have been teaching in Fiji they always assumed that I was there to teach English, maybe maths, but I would say what’s far more important is the stress Think Pacific puts on art and creativity as there is currently no place for it in the Fijian school curriculum. When I asked two twelve year old girls to draw me a cat, without tracing a picture from a colouring book, they looked at me confusedly and said that they did not know how, that they had never done that before. I then spent the following hour teaching them how to draw some basic cartoon animals; an act I did not realize the significance of until two weeks later when the girls presented me with the sheet of paper that contained all the pictures we had drawn, and one gave me a signed picture of a mermaid that she’d drawn herself – I hadn’t taught her how to do that. And this lack of encouragement for creativity extends into their learning of English. My advice to anyone doing a Think Pacific project is to take books with you, take Roald Dahl and the Magic Enchanted Far Away Tree. Their texts books are old and boring, with answers already circled so they needn’t understand the text to get the answers. The children loved the stories that strayed from real life, and were even more excited to try and write their own. Take books and take coloured pens, gel pens and stickers; like all children they love colour, it makes it more interesting, and stickers make a brilliant reward for hard work. My favourite part of teaching was being able to encourage the children’s creativity, in written English and in art.
Attempting to pick a highlight from the trip is almost impossible as there are simply too many to choose from. There are ones with your family – watching my Lewa tube down the river and out of sight, sitting under the stars with my family the night the power was cut, trekking up the hill which looked over the village with Ana and Ura. There are ones with the team – overcoming challenges in school, doing House Cup, song practices & learning a traditional make dance. There are ones with the children, and ones from the school. There are many, many things that I will take away with me from Fiji but I would say the best part, if I had to pick one, would be the friendships I’ve made, both in the village and with my team-mates.”
For more information about Think Pacific student volunteer projects, please visit www.thinkpacific.com
Here’s a small collection of pictures from their projects for you…