Laidlaw and Think Pacific Leadership Expedition to Fiji: Reflection

This summer, 7 Laidlaw Scholars and I were granted the incredible opportunity to go on a 4-week leadership expedition to Fiji with the Laidlaw Foundation and Think Pacific.

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Prior to the trip, I was apprehensive and nervous as I didn’t really know what to expect and if I was capable. Although, putting myself into the unknown was something I felt I needed to do to improve my self-belief and confidence, something that has been improving since the start of the Laidlaw scholarship.

Whilst in Fiji, we lived with a Fijian family in a remote island village called Uluibau on Moturiki Island. During the week, we taught Maths, English and Sport in Uluibau Primary School and experienced traditional Fijian activities in the evenings such as hop-hop (dance) and cava nights, mat weaving, bilo making and neckless making. On Saturday’s we went on adventures trekking up mountains, snorkelling in the sea and lakes, fishing, visiting other islands, spending time with our family’s and playing sport with the villagers. Sunday’s were our day of rest, we went to Church and relaxed with our Fijian family’s.

Reflecting on my time in Uluibau village, I feel pure inspiration and joy. I have fond memories with my Fijian family, fellow villagers and volunteers. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, learnt so much and have a new perspective. After the trip my mindset and outlook changed; I saw how little the villagers had, and the joy they retained in their community despite their struggles. Fiji brought all that I have learnt on the Laidlaw scholarship together; it allowed me to develop a whole host of personal skills which can be seen in this video: Most of all it has shown me the joy and happiness that Uluibau has, and how resourceful they are and that I can bring that home and share it with those around me.

Below are three examples of when I developed my leadership skills…

Teaching Zumba was a particular highlight, I had never done Zumba but at the last minute we needed a scholar to lead a session to 25+ children in Uluibau Primary School, I volunteered. It caught me off guard but experiences like this allowed me to grow the most. I developed my creativity, initiative and adaptability. I found my energy was reflected in the children's energy and I learnt that it doesn't matter how silly you look, it’s important to leave your pride outside the door.

Another highlight is when I led an assembly to 60+ Fijian children that understood only some English. I spoke about the physical, mental and social benefits of exercise throughout the lifespan. This was a great experience to adapt my presentation to a different culture, to their surroundings and lifestyle and also make it interesting and engaging to the children so that they could understand and also tell their parents and influence all generations. I learnt to make the presentation meaningful to them using examples from their situation. This really helped me work on my confidence, communication and presentation/ public speaking skills.

A valuable lesson I learnt in Fiji was empowerment and managing groups of people, further expanding my leadership skills. One such opportunity was leading a group of 15-20 Fijian children five days per week This was a fantastic chance to apply the leadership skills I had gained from Laidlaw leadership days. Working in a team with two other Laidlaw scholars, I found myself leading the group for sport as I was the only one with sports coaching experience. We discussed ideas and as time progressed, I encouraged the other scholars to lead small sections of the session. At some points they forgot to give key instructions like stay within the cone boundaries. I had to decide between gaining control or letting them learn to recognise this and make adjustments to the session themselves. I was very mindful and conscious of not stepping on their toes and not taking over. On this trip I tried to find a balance and learn what to do in this situation of helping someone. I encouraged that we reflected on each session to acknowledge what we did well, where we could improve and how we could implement changes. This helped to improve my communication skills, self-awareness and confidence of how to interact whilst working in a team environment but also being a leader of that group. 

I hope from the examples above; I have demonstrated that the Laidlaw Foundation and Think Pacific trip to Fiji allowed me to develop a whole host of personal and leadership skills. Overall, the trip has given me experiences and allowed me to build relationships that I will cherish. I look forward to returning to Fiji in the near future! 

Emily Dingley

Strength and Conditioning Coach, Southern Academy of Sport

I am a Laidlaw and University of Leeds Alumni - My Laidlaw research project investigated if a community-based dance programme could improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of socio-economically disadvantaged older adults. Here is a link to a short film of my research: I am interested in sport, health, performance, injury prevention and personal development. I currently coach strength and conditioning to youth athletes to improve their athletic performance.