Service learning in Fiji

Bula! It turns out keeping up with a blog is not that easy. Since starting back in September, this is only my third post. I have been meaning to write something for a while and have left myself countless post-it reminders and ideas about content but am only just getting around to it now. Work has been as busy as always but there have been so many moments that I have enjoyed something, heard something or been inspired by something that I wanted to write about. Most recently though I attended a school trip and felt that I learnt so much, not just from the culture and the country but also from our students and I wanted to share.

I was lucky enough to be selected as a chaperone on our Grade 10 service trip to Fiji (sometimes I have to really pinch myself that I get to go on ‘work’ trips to these places!) and at the end of March myself and a colleague took 22 excited students over via Hong Kong. This trip was part of a whole school ‘Global Exploration Trips’ programme which, in my opinion, is something that really sets our school apart from the rest. The main purpose of the trip was marine conservation, at the same time as experiencing a different culture and country.

I could fill up pages about the exciting and awesome things we did on the trip, from sand dune jumping and snorkeling to beach clean ups and mud fights in the mangroves – but I won’t. There were a few stand-out moments for me that really made me reflect.

Firstly, meeting the chief of Somo Somo village was such a lovely and meaningful moment for me. She is one of only two female chiefs in the whole of Fiji and is 92 years old. This was special because she is such an important and revered person in Fiji and a true pillar of the community, but she was also welcoming and gentle and so happy. This moment was made greater though by watching the way that the students interacted with her as they all showed different emotions. Some demonstrated the utmost respect, some became uncharacteristically shy and others seemed to be in awe. At that point I felt that this was really an experience that was seeping into them and I felt proud to be a part of it.

Although the trip was amazing, it is fair to say the weather was less than desirable. We had endless rain from the back-end of a cyclone which resulted in schedule changes, cancelled ferries, missed flights and a two day delay to get home. This could have been a disaster on a trip with 22 students but honestly, thanks to them, it was the best that the situation could be.  My colleague and I definitely started to feel grumpy after days of soggy clothes and no sunshine; and although we kept our smiles on for the students, being British, we enjoyed a little moan to each other in the mornings. However we soon realised that we seemed to be the only ones – the students’ spirits were unbreakable. Even restricted by the rain with leaking tents, cancelled activities and no mobile phones (we had collected them at the beginning of the trip), the students were having a great time just playing cards, looking after the puppies, gossiping and just generally being positive, happy people. It made me look at myself anew and appreciate the situation – after all, a bad day in Fiji is still better than a good day in most places.

It was one of the most positive and uplifting experiences I have had thanks to the students and the way they faced up to challenges and encountered everything. I love my job and trips like this just remind me why.

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