Jubairata village - Fiji
Being immersed within the Fijian village initially pushed me out of my comfort zone. However, I fully embraced the Fijian culture and way of life and really enjoyed building relationships with my Fijian family and the community. Having the opportunity to experience their traditional celebrations, perform Meke, learn about their language, and taste their food is something I loved and will treasure forever. I also love the concept of Fiji time...No hurry, no worry!
Most afternoons we had cultural sessions led by the Fijian youths where we collaborated to make Bilo's, a Bili Bili, tie dye clothing, weave headbands, plant cassava, and cook on a Lovo. These activities allowed us to build relationships with the youths and have a laugh after the morning workshops.
During the first half of the project, the focus was on diabetes. We collaborated with the youths of Jubairata to learn about diabetes within Fiji and helped to educate on how to use a blood pressure machine and glucose monitor so that the youths can continue to help monitor the villagers into the future. As part of the project, a clinic day, with doctors and nurses, was ran that many people attended from surrounding villages. There were stations for the following: nutritional advice, body measurements, emotional support, dental advice, a foot clinic, antioxidant station, cancer advice, and an eye clinic. I was involved in both the antioxidant station and helped with nutritional advice. The clinic day was a success and out of around 200 people that attended, over 75 were identified as high risk for diabetes and received the support that they needed.
Moving onto the second half of the project, the focus was on the mental health of youths within Fiji. Working with Youth Champs For Mental Health Fiji, the aim was to help open dialogue surrounding mental health and to begin to reduce the stigma within the village. Workshops were run daily on various topics surrounding mental health. I, alongside two others, were involved in running the workshop surrounding what stigma was, why there is stigma and how we can begin to reduce it. Unfortunately, towards the end of the mental health project I had to isolate with COVID-19. However, I heard that at the end of the workshops, there was a day of reflection where the youths and think pacific team shared their own thoughts in a safe and comfortable space that had been created throughout the project. I was told that the youths were much more open with their feelings at the end in comparison to the begin so the workshops had been successful in opening up a dialogue surrounding mental health and worked towards reducing stigma.
Reflecting on my experience, I have learnt a lot about leadership and the different forms that it can come in. It is important to be empathetic as a leader and to listen attentively to others especially when your team members could be facing challenges. Throughout the project I remained supportive to my peers to help them through their difficulties.
Whilst having a role in nutritional advice at the diabetes clinic, I developed my leadership abilities. I sensitively gave suggestions on healthier food alternatives and explained the recommended quantities without sounding like I had authority. I was helping to give advice on food alternatives whilst making sure the swaps were culturally appropriate to the region and that the foods, I was advising were available within the village.
By running the workshop surrounding mental health stigma, I developed my communication skills, my adaptability, and resilience. In the morning of the workshop, the partner decided to change the original plan which left me feeling unprepared. However, this experience allowed me to develop my adaptability and resilience to still deliver an effective presentation. I also helped to create a group activity and lead a discussion within a smaller group surrounding why there is stigma. During this activity, I developed my communication skills and as a group we were able to collaborate despite language boundaries.
I hope that it is evident how much the Laidlaw scholarship and Think Pacific has allowed me to grow as an individual and future leader. But most importantly, it has allowed me to build relationships not only with the other Laidlaw scholars, but I now have a Fijian family and home. I look forward to going back to Fiji soon. This is not goodbye but Sota tale.