A Reflection of my 6 Weeks in Toga Village, Fiji

Reflecting on my time in Toga Village, Fiji, on Think Pacific's "Youth and Community Build" Project
A Reflection of my 6 Weeks in Toga Village, Fiji

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            I am currently sat writing this in a Burger King at Manchester Terminal 1, about to board my flight headed for my next adventure, my year abroad at the University of Rochester, New York. But in this post, I am here to reflect on the lifechanging experiences I experienced during my 2022 LiA project, “Youth and Community” facilitated by Think Pacific.

            Over 6 weeks (16th June – 28th July), I was provided the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by the Laidlaw Foundation and Think Pacific to undertake a community health clinic build and facilitate the delivery of youth empowerment workshops in Toga Village, Western Region, Fiji.

            I’ll never forget the mixture of feelings I experienced as our people carrier headed up the single-track road which provided a lifeline and connectivity to Sigatoka for the village. A warm welcome was instantly received from the wonderful Fijian families, with a special mention to the Mateiwai Family, with Nene (Lice), and Tou (Mitieli), Junior and Luisa coming to collect us from the Village Hall, where we were presented with handmade garlands, showcasing the compassion and creativity the Fijians would continue to provide us during our short stay in the village for the next 5 weeks.

            I instantly settled into the family, and despite a non-functioning stomach for most of the trip, the food they prepared, caught, and cooked for us was soe of the most fantastic I’ll ever eat. Lunch time was always a great opportunity to return home, eat with our parents and siblings, rest and prepare for the next activity we would undertake. They provided us with a safe place to sleep, eat, relax and somewhere to call home. One of my favourite memories was the matching shirts they made us all for the family farewell dinner, which they had clearly spent a long time preparing for, with a rotisserie chicken, fresh fruit and vegetables, a cake and more. It was so heart-warming and slightly sentimental to be surrounded with the same families who had been there on our first night, except this time we had grown to love them and know them on a personal level.

            A large focus of the project involved creating a long-lasting impact for Toga, which had been selected by the Ministry of Health in Fiji as a designated Health Clinic construction area. Over 3 weeks, as a group of 18 Laidlaw Scholars (many of us lacking building experience) we excavated, sawed, drilled, hammered, nailed, and painted; resulting in a fabulous space that will be well utilised by Toga and the surrounding villages for many generations to precede. Some days were more challenging than others, but the build gave us the opportunity to split into smaller sub-groups and develop our leadership skills within a new team, something I will rely on later in life when working at a new company.

            The latter half of the project consisted of the facilitation of workshops which delved into the topics of climate change, gender, and human rights, delivered by AFG Fiji, a “network of young leaders from diverse socio-economic backgrounds…united in vision and driven by our passion to build a sustainable future” (AFG Fiji, 2022). As part of our leadership-in-action, we facilitated the completion of activities set by the charity for the Fijians to engage in and encouraged them to participate within the public speaking aspect too. The sessions were quite eye-opening, being delivered from a “Pacific Perspective” – as I wouldn’t usually consider the drastic environmental effects HICs like the United States and Great Britain have on regions like the Pacific. It was quite surreal to hear that Toga may be underwater due to the impacts of climate change, which would economically affect the community who partially-rely on the donations received from the Sigatoka River Safari.

            The final section of the project involved cultural activities, such as mat weaving, fan weaving, creating a Lovo (Fijian underground oven), as well as exploring the local mountains to learn about the history of Kava (Yaqona), Toga Village and how they source their water. One day we also took a trip to the farm to learn about subsistence farming, how the land is designated to families by the chief and that they must grow the Yaqona plant on a slant to prevent the roots from becoming saturated with rainwater and going mouldy. On Saturdays, we would participate in a cultural activity outside the village, this included going to watch the rugby at Lautoka Park, Sigatoka, visiting the Sigatoka Sand Dunes where we got to see the Fijiana 15s training. After learning about the positive impact, the Sigatoka River Safari has on Toga and the surrounding villages, we also got to experience a ride back up the Sigatoka River in one of the speedboats.

            I will be forever in debt to Think Pacific and the Laidlaw Foundation for providing me the opportunity to experience such a truly unique and compassionate culture, which I will always hold a special place in my heart for. Sota Tale Fiji!

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Go to the profile of Rebecca Shaw
almost 2 years ago

What a fabulous reflection Corey! A great read! Thank you :-)

Go to the profile of Corey Jones
almost 2 years ago

Cheers Becky!! 😀