Even though I’ve been enjoying myself in Australia (apart from the strep throat), I haven’t stopped thinking about my incredible nine weeks spent volunteering in Fiji.
To provide some more context, my fellow globe-trotting friend Sarah of Enrichmentality has kindly written a fantastic guest post – I had the pleasure of getting to know Sarah and her husband Simon during our volunteer placement in Fiji, and they were actually there when Cyclone Winston hit the islands this past February.
Read on for Sarah’s harrowing retelling of her first-hand experience (and be sure to check out her website for excellent money-related knowledge!)
There are, apparently, 15 words for ‘heaven’ in the Fijian language – one of which is ‘yasawa’. And the Yasawa Islands, Fiji are certainly the closest thing to paradise I’ve experienced.
Earlier this year, we were in Fiji with family when Cyclone Winston struck. We were out in the Yasawas, staying at the wonderful Naqalia Lodge and enjoying a Fijian dinner by kerosene lantern light, when the resort manager handed us two weather reports – one out of the country’s capital, Suva, and one out of the nearest city, Nadi.
Each predicted a different path for the cyclone: one heading to Nadi, one heading to the Yasawas.
We had to make a choice – try to get on the evacuation ferry (which could be full by the time it got to us) and take our chances trying to find appropriate shelter on the mainland in Nadi.
Or, we could stay where we were, in the Yasawas, with the caveat that if Cyclone Winston did indeed hit Fiji and do a lot of damage (as it ultimately did), we could be stranded.
Deciding to take our chances with the boat, after a very rough ride, one injury, and a broken camera, we were back on the mainland, thanks to the extraordinarily skillful work of the various resort workers who managed to transfer terrified passengers from tiny boats onto the ferry in extremely choppy water.
We managed to find shelter in a dorm room at the hotel we had previously been staying at, and after a terribly windy night, awoke to debris everywhere. Several days later, when we could get our hands on a newspaper, we read a lot of tragic stories of lives and homes and livelihoods lost.
But the pages of the Fiji Times were also filled with messages of support and hope and thanks – for the local and international donations and aid. From our room overlooking the airport, we watched supply-carrying government and military aircraft landing on a runway lit by the headlights of cars, since the power was still out.
We were so grateful for the running water, the food, and the roof over our heads that we enjoyed.
We felt extraordinarily lucky – as we should every day.
We made a few donations and did what we could to help out with the clean up, trying to relive some pressure from the staff who had their own homes and families to worry about. But we wanted to be out helping in the worst affected areas – although we didn’t have any structure to offer a hand through, and we weren’t keen to be wandering around offering help when the country was under a curfew and emergency services were already pushed to their limits.
At that time, we decided that we’d like to go back and help out as soon as we were free of the constraints of our jobs, and so, two days after my final work commitment, we boarded a plane back to Fiji to begin our volunteering experience.
Seven months on, much of Fiji looks restored to its idyllic reputation. Although there remains much work to be done, and your support is still needed, Fiji remains a beautiful place to visit.
Please be sure to visit Sarah’s website at Enrichmentality.com!