St Clare’s girls lend a hand in Fiji

By Meg Lillie (St Clare’s College – Year 11)

AS 10 St Clare’s College Canberra students boarded the plane bound for Fiji, there was definitely some nervous energy in the air.

But our worries quickly disappeared as we were welcomed to Fiji with songs, smiles and hugs. We picked up some basic Fijian language and began to embrace the warm and welcoming culture that was evident everywhere we went. Our Rustic Pathways program leaders, Lesi, Jowave, Bethany and Cassie played an important role in making the trip as amazing as it was with their humour and kindness.

We undertook service work in three schools, a village and a home for the aged. The work made us perspire a lot but it was very rewarding. Some of the projects we worked on included:

• Building a bench and table, providing a shaded outdoor area for the school children to study and eat.

• Paving a cement path through Bavu village, which will allow the villagers to move more easily through the village during the wet season when the ground becomes extremely muddy. In Fijian villages, families leave the doors to their homes open whenever they have a meal so that anyone can come and share the food. The Fijian communities share everything they own and help anyone who is in need and we hope the path will help them to carry out these incredible traditions all year round.

• Helping to rebuild the teachers’ quarters at a small school, which had been damaged after a recent cyclone. We assisted with the project by filling in the bricks of a new septic tank with cement and installing a sink and bathtub. Teachers in Fiji do not get to choose which school they work at, but instead are assigned to those that need staff. As many teachers are sent to work at schools far from their homes, teachers’ quarters are provided at the schools.

The St Clare’s College girls with children from Ratu Nemani Memorial School. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The St Clare’s College girls with children from Ratu Nemani Memorial School. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

• Tiling a kindergarten classroom at Uciwai Sangam Primary School, which originally only had a cement floor. This floor was difficult to clean and uncomfortable for the students to sit on.

• Building a classroom at Ratu Nemani Memorial School. We helped to build brick walls on top of foundations of a space that was an outdoor eating area but was being turned into a classroom as the number of children at the school was beginning to grow.

• Cooking and serving meals for the residents’ lunch at the Golden Age home for the elderly. We were able to meet and chat with some of the residents who were happy to have some company.

We really enjoyed our visits at the schools where we got to make friends and play with all the energetic children who loved having visitors to play with.

We also loved experiencing some of the important physical and cultural aspects of Fiji including a traditional Kava ceremony, basket weaving, mud pools, Sigatoka Sand Dunes, a traditional Meke ceremony and a Methodist Church service. We were amazed by the caring, community and family oriented culture and the happiness that everyone possessed despite an obvious lack of material possessions and money. We hope to share the inspiring qualities we learnt with our friends and family.

The tears we shed at the farewell ceremony were evidence of the impact the Fijian culture, experiences and, most importantly, the people had on us all. We embraced the experience through the words of St Francis of Assisi: “For it is in giving that we receive”.