Fiji, A Community for all

This summer for my LIA, I participated in an Environment and Sustainability project with Think Pacific, working collaboratively alongside AFG (Alliance for Future Generations) a local Fijian NGO, and the youths (18-35 year olds)of Rarabasaga village to work towards the UN sustainable development goals. I initially applied for Think Pacific knowing that I wanted to challenge myself, particularly in a leadership setting. After living in a rural, remote village for 6 weeks with a Fijian family, I can confidently say that I achieved this.
Fiji, A Community for all

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Living in the rural Fijian village of Rarabasaga gave me an honest cultural insight and legitimately provided me with an opportunity to truly immerse myself in Fijian culture. As a result of being pushed so far outside of my comfort zone and being confronted with such a different environment, it is safe to say that I experienced a lot of culture shock. The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly the amazing relationships I fostered both with the villagers and with my fellow scholars. The bonds we built with one another were no doubt enhanced through the physical and mental challenges we faced. Most of all it taught all of us the importance of relying on and supporting one another.

The village itself was the most welcoming environment I have ever found myself in and as a result, it made it quite simple to embrace and fall in love with their unique culture. One of the big parts of their culture that set it apart from all was the idea of “Kerekere”. It is the idea of sharing any items which ensures that anyone andeveryone in the village is provided for. This applied to anything from food to clothing. 

A challenge we all definitely faced was the lack of privacy and space. This is something that the locals grew up in and as such was normal for them, for us it was a real learning curve. After the first 2 or 3 weeks we did get used to it and it quickly became a nice thing that allowed us to stay connected and support one another and also immerse fully in village life. This level of immersion was difficult but definitely meant that every moment in the village was a learning opportunity. We had to learn quickly about Fijian customs, work past language barriers and work our best to build relationships with everyone in the village.

This project changed my view on leadership. During my time on the Laidlaw programme, I recognized the Foundation's fundamental aim as empowering and developing a new generation of leaders who can serve as agents of change in an ever-changing, increasingly corporate world. Before finishing my LIA, I linked leadership with energetic team members. However, this project has shown me that there may be numerous types of effective leadership. Leadership isn't a title but a characteristic that drives and enables others to reach their greatest potential. The village kids first saw the scholars as more educated and best equipped to discover solutions, lacking confidence in their own talents. Our purpose on this project was not to educate the adolescents but to help them realize that they already have the knowledge and aptitude to problem solve, identify answers, and provide ideas. Through careful collaboration, the scholars were able to empower the youngsters to contribute and realize that they are best suited, owing to their indigenous knowledge, to develop climate change projections and propose adaptation options. This skill is crucial to the future of our world because it has a knock-on effect of enabling young people to work towards a joint future and more specifically in our case it adds an underlying ideology of working towards a sustainable future.

Working with a Fijian NGO was more genuine than other 'Voluntourism' ventures. AFG's training helped me discern between leadership and just following. It became increasingly vital to break down the taught image of white saviourism by stepping back from my unintended Western bias and understanding the century-old traditions that operate as the underpinnings of the completely working, self-sufficient village that I was welcomed into. This approach created an encouraging environment for the youths to voice their honest and authentic viewpoints. It also allowed our team of Laidlaw volunteers to view the harmful effects of climate change from a Pacific perspective, enabling the collaboration of ideas on how to best approach global warming.

This summer pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me gain cultural and emotional awareness and the courage to strive for change. Fiji will always retain a particular place in my heart, thanks to the Laidlaw Foundation and the affection and hospitality of my community and family 

Vinaka vaka levu Fiji, thank you for teaching me the importance of community.

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