All students have arrived safety, stay tuned for blog updates and photos!
In just a few short hours “Bula” has become not only a greeting but a cheer for the students. Officially, Ni sa bull vinaka, meaning “wishing you happiness and good health,” and the shortened version meaning “life,” Bula has already proved to be growing in the group. After the long trek to Nadi, Fiji (pronounced Nand-ee, rhymes with candy) the first 13 students were excited and ready for all of our adventures. We are now complete with our final few members and set to task getting to know one another, figuring out what it means to build our community and who we want to be, and the beginning steps of understanding Fijian culture. Our time has been filled with beach clean ups, challenge and trust activities, a walk through the beautiful Sleeping Giant Garden (where we found an Australian Buddhist monk who challenged us all to sit in lotus position), and an afternoon of games and laughter getting muddy at the natural hot pools. We’ve found Fijian’s to be incredibly hospitable and welcoming every where we go. It’s be a fun few days and everyone is pumped to head out to Drawaqa Island to our Barefoot Lodge homebase.
Our day started out early, with a morning run at 6 and yoga on the roof of our hotel, greeting the beautiful sunrise. After washing up and cooling down, we had our morning circle. Our two leaders of the day were James and Kay, who led our morning games and informed and guided the rest of the group throughout the day. We all dressed respectful, the ladies wearing sarongs or long skirts.
After breakfast and a small rest, we departed to a local Indo-Fijian community to prepare a traditional vegetarian Indo-Fijian meal. Traveling on a charter bus, we made our way through villages; one being the home of the Fiji rugby team! When we arrived at the community, we were welcomed with respect and many “Bulas!” The locals explained what we were going to cook for lunch, and we began the process. We prepared our ingredients and cooked all of the courses in the garden of their community building. After a lot of cooking, we were finally ready to eat. The meal consisted of traditional pumping and eggplant curry, rice, potatoes, and coconut chutney, all served with an Indian roti and cooked on an open fire.
We were all so excited to eat what we prepared together as a group! It’s traditional to eat Indian food with no utensils and to use your right hand (one clean, one dirty) and use the roti to scoop up the curried rice. After enjoying our decadent Indian cuisine, we all gathered up and sang! The locals played some Fijian songs, including drums, guitar and a stationary accordion. We then played some well-known American tunes, such as “Stand By Me” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. The energy was peaceful and happy. The Indo-Fijians played us a farewell song as we left the community, giving us many warm goodbyes.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in Nadi to purchase some last minute necessities before heading out to the Island home base. Before dinner, we enjoyed an educational workshop led by Aisake, a local member of Vinaka Fiji (our partnering volunteer non-profit organization of Fiji).
We concluded our day with group discussions, preparing us for tomorrow’s trip to the Yasawa Islands, where we will be staying for the next two and a half weeks!
Vinaka! – Bell and Andrey
Today we had an extremely early morning. Everyone was up by 5:45 to be prepared for our initial 6 am breakfast circle. It was our last meal at the hotel before leaving for Barefoot, and excitement was running high. Once breakfast was over, we all boarded the bus to the port, excited for our ferry ride to Drawaqa Island. The boat ride was beautiful, everyone was laughing, smiling, playing music, and taking many pictures.
We arrived on Barefoot Island to find a Fijian band serenading us as we disembarked from our boats. Then we met under our large bures (thatch roofed structure) which we named Duavata, meaning “together.” We also took time to move into our cozy small beach huts and were happy to learn who our roommates were. Afterwards each of the local Vinaka Fiji project coordinators explained their service groups work in detail. Later we got a little time to explore the island while doing an awesome scavenger hunt. Following that, we met at the dive shop and ‘Dan the Manta Ray man’ taught us more about local Fijian coral reefs. Just after that each of us got into the ocean for the first time to pass our GLA swim test. We then split up for free-time, some of us swam while others enjoyed a spirited game of beach volleyball. Lastly, we met for dinner circle, had our delicious meal, and finally found out which of the service projects would become our own for the next two weeks starting tomorrow morning!!! After these meetings, very tired, everyone quickly ran off to go to bed.
– Jack and Macey
Today was a momentous first day of service. We divided into three main service groups based on interest and necessity. Eight volunteers from GLA went to Naviti Island to work on education and marine biology projects. Another eight volunteers went to the Soso or “Chiefly” Village to work on an underground food bank project that will be an integral part of a future UN presentation. All three projects are aimed at lasting meaningful change that will continue to better the community in years to come.
The education group got the privilege of working one on one with students in years three and four from a primary school. The students we worked with those that are sometimes challenged more so than other in a standard classroom setting and need a little bit of extra attention to thrive. Today, each of the four volunteers involved in the education program got to work with three different students. The experience was not only fun, but also immensely rewarding in a sense that even throughout the short time we spent with the students we got to see them improve. We will be working with the same students for the rest of our service time, and we all look forward to watching them grow as well as growing through the experience ourselves. The education group will also be working side by side with the marine group to improve the communities’ self-sufficiency.
The marine biology volunteers had an amazing first day working with Butani (an expert in marine biology, local ecosystem patterns and dynamics, and just about everything else), and local vocational students. We started the day by listening to Butani’s enrapturing presentation about local sea life (coral, turtles, fish, crown of thorns, etc.), and MPA’s (marine protected areas). Butani explained the importance of coral as a habitat for sea animals as well as an attraction to continue the main island business of ecotourism. With this description, we also learned about how and why coral bleaching occurs. Coral bleaching occurs because of invasive species (crown of thorns and others) or because of human contact. Crown of thorns, a free floating plant that attaches to coral, sucks the algae out of the coral that normally provides for pigment and consequently causing bleaching. Human contact causes new diseases in the coral that it cannot combat. Following Butani’s presentation the GLA volunteers and local vocational students helped to make cement “cookies” (round circles with holes in the middle) that will serve as habitats for coral polyps (fertilized eggs) to grow on. The reason that the “cookies” are necessary is because of the reproductive cycles of coral. Coral releases polyps during the nighttime that float around but will only become coral plants and grow if they are able to attach to a hard surface. By making the cement “cookies” the coral polyps have a place to attach. Lastly, the vocational students led the GLA volunteers around the reef on a snorkeling expedition pointing out thing like giant clams, sea slugs, starfish, coral types, and trigger fish. After snorkeling, we thanked the vocational students and Butani with the traditional Fijian “Vinaka” (thank you). On the other side of Naviti Island in the Soso village region, the other eight GLA volunteers were hard at work on the food bank project.
The food bank group had an amazing eye-opening day! We started the day by getting to go and see the variety of crops that the people in the Soso village have planted just incase of a cyclone or drought. When we returned to the village we gathered all of our tools then went to go meet the chief. The chief was very nice and generous to our group, by allowing us to wear hats at the worksite and play music. After meeting the chief we went back to our work site to figure out what we were all going to work on. We started by hauling sand and gravel then we were working on bending and cutting iron slabs. After lunch we got to work on digging out the natural underground freezer and learn how the locals make cement on their own. Throughout the day we had the pleasure of meeting many fantastic students and children that we hope to continue to talk (and dance with) and build our relationships so they can last for a life time.
All three groups, education, marine biology, and food bank construction, had a successful start that we will continue to build on. Each project hopes to provide the local communities with an element of self-sufficiency that will continue to help them grow as vibrant local cultures. As a group we look forward the continuation of our projects and the lasting effects they will have on the communities and ourselves.
– Caroline Chang, Bridget Bruneau, James Mckenney
Today, the education group and marine group was given the opportunity to attend the high school assembly, where the students warmly welcomed us with a “bula” song. We then split our ways, and the education group breezed through the day with each student getting five kids to work with, from 25-30 minutes each. Today was the second day helping with reading, and many of us got the same kids to work with! It was satisfying to see the progress in two short days. We tried something different with the kids by playing some group games to get them more excited for each session.
Caroline and I (Jac) are going to each be shadowing a high school student tomorrow. We will be spending a whole day with a Fijian high schooler, from attending class with them to eating lunch with them. Two others from the food bank group, Kai and Kay, will also be shadowing student with us tomorrow. It’ll be awesome!
Once we split ways in the morning, the marine group went straight into the ocean! We went out with the vocational students and they taught us how to snip off the tops of branch coral. We are all getting to know each other better, and it’s also cool being able to communicate in a different way under the water in our snorkels. They’re very intelligent and we are learning a lot from them! We had to be very careful while cutting off the tips of the coral, if we touched the white tips with our hands, it would die and cause it to not be able to grow further. We were able to pick up branch coral from the bottom of the ocean that was detached from a coral base, so we could float it to the surface of the ocean. We all worked together to collect the corals in a bucket and carry them to shore. We then placed them in the concrete cookies that we made yesterday, securing them and filling in the loose space with more concrete. Once finished, we carried the metal bed with the “cookies” down the sand and through the water where we held it half on the boat while we transported to a reef 5 minutes away. We then planted it at the bottom of the ocean! After that was completed, each of us was paired up with a vocational student and went out snorkeling, looking for specific things. One group was looking at the coral, the other was looking for fish, and the last group was searching for invertebrates. We then went into our classroom and wrote down what we saw and talked about what was missing from a healthy coral reef. We are going into a community tomorrow to talk and to inform them on overfishing and the different effects that they have on the reef.
The group working on the Food Bank were given a situation and had to be able to adapt to it. Today we were expecting a boat carrying the tools that we needed for building. However, due to confusion with the boat… we will not be able to receive our tools until Friday. In response to this our group was able to continue working on the foundation of the building—mixing cement and moving gravel. We were also given extra time to interact and really connect with the vocational students and small children from the village. Through all the hard labor and building, our group was capable of working together and truly using each other’s abilities to further create progress in building the Food Bank.
Until mataka (tomorrow)!
– Jacqueline Ung, Luli Hays, Bell Coleman
Hello Everyone! We are having a great time in Fiji so far! Due to wind and choppy ocean tides, we were not able to visit our service sites yesterday. However, we still had a productive day, playing lots of games and interesting activities. It was also Luli’s birthday yesterday and we surprised her with an evening bonfire.
Today was also quite windy, but it did not prevent us from doing service. Unfortunately, some service groups could not reach their usual service sites because of the waves, so everybody went to the village of Soso. Soso village is a beautiful community located on an island not far from our home base. We were split into our three service groups: some continued working on the food bank, some visited the Soso village elementary school, and some went out snorkeling in the bay.
The food bank group spent their day fertilizing and planting yams in the local village, which will later be used in the food bank that they are constructing. The marine group went out into the ocean, surveying the amount of sea cucumbers in the coral reefs around the village. The education group spent their day observing classes and tutoring students one on one at the local primary school.
After coming back safely to our home base from Soso village, we enjoyed an evening workshop from one of the diving instructors. He gave us a presentation about the basic coral reefs around the island. Overall, it was an efficient and fun day, as well as a great opportunity for the education and marine group to work at a different site and see a new community. We have all been enjoying our service and cannot wait to continue with our projects.
– Andrey, Isabel, and Caroline
Today was literally not smooth sailing. Going to service in the morning was pleasant, but during our return to our home base, we encountered some rough waters. In a nutshell, we all returned soaking wet, some of us feeling a tad sick, and all very cold. Nonetheless, we had a fun and efficient day of service.
Two members of the education group as well as two members of the food bank group got the chance to shadow local Fijian high school students throughout the day. The other two members of the education group got the privilege of shadowing yesterday. Experiencing a Fijian school day brought to light many differences as well as similarities between the Fijian and American school systems, and was a wonderful experience for everyone involved. Hopefully, more students will receive the chance to shadow before the end of our trip. The members of the education group who did not shadow continued to work with their usual students on enhancing their reading, writing, and grammatical skills.
The marine group visited Mauro Village to assist in the construction of a recycling hut. They helped weave coconut leaves for the exterior of the structure, and enjoyed some Fijian pancakes.
In Soso Village, the food bank group had the chance to understand the Fijian way of building by helping to put panels on two of the walls on the structure. We worked together to measure, cut, and nail the panels to the frame in order to make a solid wall. During the process, it started to rain, but we were able to maintain a positive attitude while continuing to build. When we finished for the day, the chief’s wife invited the group to have afternoon tea with her, and we ended by hiking across the island and riding the bumpy waves back to our home base.
Over the past few days, we had a nice weekend of games and various activities. We got to learn how to weave coconut leaves and played a few games of group volleyball. We also participated in a beach clean up, which was followed by hermit crab races, and a few team building activities. Additionally, we swam with a Manta Ray in its natural habitat, which was insanely cool. We also taught the Fijian chefs how to make PB&J. Monday was another successful day of service in which the three groups continued work on their projects.
Despite the weather conditions today not being ideal, all service groups had an efficient day and we all look forward to continuing our projects.
– Caroline and Erin
Today was another windy day on Barefoot Island, so we did not want to risk taking the boats out to our service spots… although it still ended up being a beautiful and well-planned day. The energy that everyone shared today was enjoyable and we all felt like a big family. We started our morning with yoga led by Jess on sunset deck, which got us all movin’ and ready to take on the day. We then got an amazing Fijian language lesson from Tema! We all took down notes so that we can practice while talking in the communities. “O vakacava tiko?” Is how you ask “How are you?”
After our lesson, we played a game and then had a conversation workshop led by Kay and Jacqueline. We paired up in groups of 3, and talked about what positive change this trip has brought upon ourselves. Afterwards, we had lunch under the Dua Vata hut (with beans in our wraps!) followed by a nice volleyball tournament.
Once we got enough time in the sun, we all got a presentation from Lemeki about the geography and history of Fiji! As closure to our day, we had a few activities going at a time. Some playing ultimate Frisbee, some slack lining while we had music playing and the sun setting in the background. It was a nice relaxing time, everyone hanging out and having good laughs. After the sunset, we began to write our own individual Change View Narrative. Presented to us by Brittany, we will each make a poem about how each of us have evolved and how we have dealt with change while growing up. We will have the opportunity to share with each other on Saturday.
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!
– Bell Coleman
By: Jacqueline Ung
Today, the education and marine group was dropped off at Botaira Island Resort and had to hike to the Soso village. When we arrived at the village, we ate lunch with the food bank group in the chief’s hut. After lunch, the education and marine group went to the school and split up to do different activities. Some of us tutored the students one-on-one or painted posters with the students for drug-free week. After, we played rugby or baseball with all the students. We got picked up around three in the afternoon. When everyone got back to Barefoot Island, the leaders of the day facilitated a couple games before dinner. The day was very relaxed for the education and marine group and we all had a lot of fun.
By: Kay Torres
After a beautiful hour-long hike to Soso village, the Food Bank group hammered in the final braces for the structure and continued to dig the in-ground refrigerator. When the Education and Marine group arrived, we all hauled the last pieces of timber from a barge to the construction site. After lunch in the chief’s hut, we finished paneling two sides of the Food Bank as well as starting and almost finishing the last wall. It is safe to say the Food Bank will be finished by tomorrow! Before we left Soso village, the chief’s wife threw a tea party for the Food Bank group with multiple treats made by many families. After a calm boat ride home, leaders of the day facilitated some fun activities as well as a workshop. In all, it was another productive day for the Food Bank group!
By: Kai Graf, James Mckenney, and Sammi Rustia
The second week of service is over and we have a lot to be proud of and thankful for! The food bank group has almost finished construction of their building that will be able to hold 3,000 taro and cassava plants. The food bank will be able to provide food to Soso and other villages in the happenstance of natural disaster such as a cyclone. The marine group has finished their recycling hut that will give the locals a place to put excess waste that is otherwise strewn about. The education group has helped to make reading and writing fun for many young Fijian children. Everyone is happy at the progress that has been made and everyone has learned a tremendous amount.
The food bank group has made significant progress in the last few days and will be returning Monday morning to finish the project. Only a few windows and the front door are left! The positive attitude from our leaders of the day showed in the productiveness of the food bank group as well as the group as a whole. We started the day on yet another hike to get to the village of Soso, which took roughly 45 minutes. Once we arrived, we immediately started working on the food bank. We finished the roofing, walls and removing excess nails and wood. All in all our day was very productive and ended with delicious food and tea from the chief’s wife.
In the education group, we started the day off similarly to the food bank group, but much later. Today is National Sports Day here in Fiji and so the primary school only stays half day. We split up into two groups, one focusing on one-on-one reading and writing, while the other group focused on assisting the teacher of years 1 and 2. To end the school day, we colored a couple worksheets with the children that represented a drug free environment. Afterwards, we met up with the food bank group for lunch under the chief’s hut. We finished off the day with a tour of the village, saying bula to everyone we saw. Overall, our day was filled with happiness and excitement through the growth of the children’s reading and writing skills.
The marine group was able to finish the recycling hut thanks to hard work and skillful help from the vocational students. The locals are very excited about the recycling center and it was tremendously rewarding to see their smiles and gracious thanks. We had a fun last day of work but it was truly a rollercoaster of emotions when we had to say goodbye to Master Betani and the students. We have learned so much from them and we tried to convey our deepest thanks with somewhat butchered Fijian phrases that they seemed to appreciate nonetheless. The marine group is very proud of their accomplishments and thankful to the amazing people who made our project possible.
I also have a short video to send but computer is dying so don’t have enough time to upload. Will try to get it off to you in an hour.
All students have departed and are on their way home!