VESA’s humanitarian and conservation projects aim to provide direct action support to communities in parts of the world overlooked by traditional charities and aid organisations.Learn more
A massive THANK YOU for joining us in this beautiful country next summer. We know it’s not always easy to find the time and raise the funds.
Please enjoy reading about last summer’s achievements as this will give a complete picture of the vast amount of assistance you will be giving to the local community through your generosity!
The work is ongoing with our Australian and New Zealand volunteers and then will recommence in April of this year when our first group of North American and British volunteers arrive to carry on with these vital projects.
The education program at Nakorosule school was rather successful. The volunteers and I focused on geography, topography and biospheres. The children were able to identify the difference between climates and terrain by the end of the first week. They also memorized the different continents and oceans. The volunteers also gave an individual presentation on what they were studying in school to broaden the children’s knowledge of education after high school. The students also did a brief presentation on what they would like to be when they grow up. Altogether we played soccer, musical chairs, limbo and made hilarious animal masks.
A surreal moment in the village fell on day 3 when the children and volunteers were swimming in the river. The children began swimming across the river (well versed at this feat) and the volunteers followed. Upon reaching the other side we all cheered the remaining swimmers on as they braved the passage. Upon completion the children took us running through a banana plantation up stream pointing at different plants and vegetable gardens. The roles were reversed as they educated us on their surrounding environment and how to live off the land. A special moment for all involved.
The volunteer week in the village of Nakorosule simply consisted of refurbishing 6 buildings, building and incinerator and a compost.
During the week also Tony did a fantastic job taking charge in building the compost, incinerator and cutting and replacing the glass for any missing or damaged window slits.
Andie D bought with her a full size suitcase (approximately 100L) full to the brim with medical supplies for the Village of Nakorosule local clinic. This village is three hours into the deep interior of Fiji, also with the devastation of Cyclone Winston medical supplies have become scarce and wildly expensive. Therefore, Andie’s donation of what appeared to be hundreds of Canadian dollars’ worth of medical supplies will heavily contribute the health and wellbeing of the village of Nakorosule.
Volunteer Ammu M is from Cornwall, a small town in Canada. One evening on Korovou Island, we began talking about her life back home and her experience in Fiji, so far. She shared with us her passion for music and traveling. She has an amazing group of girlfriends but is very different than them especially when it comes to her hobbies. Back home, even when her friends have different tastes in musicians, she attends concerts by herself because she finds such energy and happiness in music. That’s exactly how she ended up on a VESA trip to Fiji.
Ammu is at university, works really hard for good grades and is determined to make traveling a major part of her life. She decided to come to Fiji alone so she could meet life-minded people who have a passion for traveling and helping others. She told Cat and I that this has been the best experience she’s had and she has grown exponentially as an independent person. One of my favourite things she said to me was, “This is the start for me. Now that I’ve started traveling, I’m never going to stop.”
I took the volunteers on a nature walk while on Nabua through the shallow rock pools at low tide. Everyone was excited to see sea cucumbers, crabs, fish and starfish and wanted to see an octopus. While walking through a sandy pool, one of the volunteers, Evan, stepped on a baby sting ray and got pricked on the top of his foot. After some quick first aid, a scene that looked like it belonged in Baywatch and a short carry to the bar, Evan was pretty quick to ask for nothing more than a rum and coke. He kept that attitude for the rest of the trip, and is pretty excited that he can tell people her survived a sting ray attack.
During the volunteer week at Nairukuruku village the volunteers prepared intense presentations about what they are studying in school. They learned about CPR, dental hygiene, healthy eating, exercises and storytelling. The children also learned about the cultural differences between North America and Fiji regarding food, weather, animals, music and even a French lesson! We also played capture the flag, volleyball, heads up 7up and track and field.
Friday at Nairukuruku District School is usually sports day. The volunteers had a great idea of doing a scavenger hunt throughout the village. Collectively we thought about places to hide such as (bus stop, candy shop, school kitchen, the boat dock, the village hall etc.) and thought of clever hints to draw them there. The volunteers were split into groups and then all of the children were divided up so that every team had both old and young children. We painted their faces to differentiate between teams, when the game begun everyone ran through the village with their teams- It was such a laugh watching the volunteers try to keep up with the children. Such a great idea!
The volunteer week in the village of Nairukuruku simply consisted of refurbishing 6 buildings, reconstructing and extending a recently cyclone Winston damaged walkway, and constructing a compost.
The buildings consisted of:
A two volunteers named Christina M and Kristen C took the initiative to draw some incredible educational murals within some of the classrooms.
One was a diagram of a tree, labelling all the different parts of the tree, e.g. Leaves, roots, branches etc. It was also quite humorous to see a crowd of local Fijians pose for photos around it after completion. Great work girls.
During our adventure week, I hopped back onto the boat after snorkelling with a manta ray and looked over at Sarah Z, a volunteer who had the biggest smile on her face. She told me that snorkelling with manta rays was the number one thing on her bucket list for life and was one of the main reasons she came to Fiji.
Sarah shared that she and her dad had always dreamt of swimming with a manta ray and he’d be so proud of her in this moment. There were other girls who had stayed in the boat and were ready to head back but after they all heard how amazed Sarah was, the energy spread and we asked to get dropped off again ahead of the manta ray and the girls who originally stayed in the boat jumped out and saw their first manta ray!
One of the girls, Jessica F-C, was working on painting murals on the side of the bathrooms and had been putting a lot of effort into making them look beautiful. When it was time to finish up and head home for the day, Jess stayed back for an extra 2 hours in order to finish up the mural and have it look as nice as possible. People would come up to her while she was working, sit down, and have a chat while she worked. It really showed her dedication to the project and her positive attitude.
Lutu Village was by far the most beautiful, well-kept and organized village we have come across. On arrival we were given a printed program on the day welcome, which was organized extremely well, this pattern followed for the rest of the week. The school is set at the bottom of the village, behind the trim rugby pitch, sculpted gardens and rolling hills that the bright and colourful village houses sit on. At the very top of the village sat elegantly is the village church, painted bright white it overlooks the entire village and down onto the school. The perfect spot to catch the evenings rugby matches. Beside the village runs the calm and tranquil river which sits almost to still, and crosses on to green farmland and scenic views for as far as the eye can see.
Lutu is a paradise that clearly has a proud community intact to look after is beauty as well as its reputation. Lutu has one of the most renowned rugby teams in its district, the team can be seen taking practice daily run by their coach pacing the players through rigorous fitness regimes before ending with a practice match.
The volunteers were especially eager to work with the kids at Lutu Village. As English is the language already taught at the school we focused on ecosystems and geography. The volunteers partnered up and created a lesson plan around the following topics:
The volunteers made up games that associated with the regions and they learned about what animals and insects live in these habitats, what the temperature is and what we can do to preserve these areas. We also did an integrated lesson on the 7 continents and 5 oceans that involved a song and clap game to help the students memorize them. We did a scavenger hunt that had the children ALL over the village. When the students arrived at each station they had another activity to carry out- such as a song, a game of Simon says, a questionnaire, or Pictionary. The students really enjoyed this as it was a full afternoon activity.
The Lutu Village talent show was an absolute laugh. Nearly every single person in the entire village performed varying from the taki taki to the Macarena. We had a cheerleading performance, a guitar solo and several group dances. One of our volunteers, Sabrina, a world championship cheerleader, taught all of the young girls a cheer routine. All of the girls giggled as they tried to memorize the performance. Very impressive stuff!
After knocking off from work on Saturday, the group all went on a walk to a waterfall. It had been a hot day and the group had worked hard all week, so finally getting to let loose and have some fun jumping from the falls or relaxing in the pools was exactly what the group needed.
As this school was two stories, the construction team found a routine at the end of each working day we will have our final meeting on the school balcony.
However, this one particular afternoon a group of Fijian men brought along a guitar and ukulele and proceeded to sign us a few songs. As this was happening we were also watching another group of local rugby players play a friendly game of touch.
I was a very content moment to share with my colleagues and friends, a perfect way to finish a hard day’s work.
Lutu District School consisted of a main, two story building, dining hall, library, kindergarten, bathroom block and a large, two-classroom building. The group finished the sanding of each of these buildings on the first day of work. On the second day, the group was split up and assigned painting the inside of either a classroom or an entire building.
The local men of Lutu were incredible this program building a wooden scaffold faster than I’ve seen anything get done in Fiji (but seriously, you should have seen the leaders faces when this happened ha ha). With the local men helping paint the top of the second story, main building, the group was able to complete all the main painting by the second last work day. This enabled us to spend more time painting more murals and properly cleaning the windows and floors.
Volunteer Jackie A came on this trip with the help of her church, Aberfoyle Baptist Church. With the help from her church, she was able to fundraise the entire cost of the program. When she returns home, she will give her church community a presentation of her trip and the work we completed in Lutu.
She is then going to hold another fundraiser with her church to receive donations for her host family, Lutu District School and the rest of the village. She will be sending her donations to her host family who is going to distribute it on her behalf.
During our working hours the men of the village were keen to get involved and help out. As the school was split over two levels of the main building we didn’t have ladders for volunteers to get high enough to paint the difficult higher parts of the school. To my amazement our Fijian helpers built a scaffolding complete with railings for safety out of tree trunks and timber in order to paint the areas. The boys turned out to be very useful in helping complete the harder (higher) tasks at hand. The village also provided a variety of local and delicious fish from the river, a variety of Fijian specialties all as tasty as the next. As well as an abundance of peanut butter from its local shop!
Staying and working at Lutu was a pleasure and as far as inland villages go its defiantly going to be a hard one to top.
This volunteer week at Vunidawa School the volunteers carried out an array of lessons. The first part of the week we focused on health and exercise.
The volunteers created their own lesson plan explain in detail the different types of habitats around the world. Our cultural lesson had our native French speakers and Spanish speakers teach basic language like “hello, goodbye etc. and the we finished off with a hilarious salsa lesson. I’d say this week was our biggest success!
On the Saturday of volunteering it rained heavily impeding us from doing any work during the afternoon. We decided to get tarps from the village, douse them in soap and used it as a slip and slide. This particular village was on a massive hill so it was quite a fast slide, everyone had a turn sliding down so both the students and volunteers enjoyed this very much. A massive shout out to Matthew B for treating the slide like a luge and flying off the end ramp in most hilarious fashion.
The school consisted of two main building, a bathroom block and kindergarten. On day one, the group sanded the buildings and began painting the classroom ceilings by the afternoon. We finished the classrooms in the first main building by the morning of day two and began the classrooms in building two by that afternoon. The following day we began on the outside of the two main buildings, kindergarten and bathroom block.
At Korovu resort we had one long and crazy night, so the next night we decided to take it easy, sit back and have a bonfire. It was a very relaxed mood and I happened to have brought some marshmallows from the mainland along with me. We sat around, chatting and roasting marshmallows under the stars, and a lot of people toasted their first marshmallow over a fire that night. It was a very relaxing night.
The volunteer week simply consisted of educating the local students refurbishing 4 buildings, constructing a footpath, installing a roof on the school incinerator and constructing a compost. All within Vunidawa primary School. On the island resort Korovu the male tour leaders spent one afternoon with the local bulla boys learning how to fire dance. This lead to a surprised moment for the volunteers when the bulla boys called us up after their performance, for us to give a very basic fire performance of our own. It was very enjoyable surprise for all spectators and all body parts remained un burned.
It rained on and off almost every day so the work on the village school was slow on the outside of the building with a lot needing to be completed on Monday. However, on Monday the group did an amazing job working extremely hard to finish all of the buildings with a team completing the murals on the bathroom block, kindergarten and VESA logo on the main building.
The village made plans to take the group on a billibilli ride down the river to a little beach for an afternoon of swimming.
Unfortunately, because of all the rain we got over the week, the headmaster decided it was too dangerous to bring everyone to the river. While brainstorming on activities we could do with the volunteers, I realized we had all the materials to make an epic slip and slide down the hill the school was next to using tarps tied together, the rain and a volunteer’s body wash. I have never seen Fijians (especially Bim) laugh so hard watching volunteers fly down the hill and wipe out in the muddy grass at the bottom. The kids from the school had huge smiles on their face when we lined them up to join us on the slide. I know I speak for the majority of the group when I say that was one of the best moments of the program.
This week the education program at Naivucini District School focused on health education, wellness and fitness. The volunteers split the children up in groups and had the children collectively discuss the different stages of life and make a list of the following:
During the village week we were fortunate enough to work in the most beautiful scenic environment to date. Every day after work the children took the volunteers around the river bend, where they had a fire pit and rock to jump off of. The afternoons were filled with campfire stories, water games and David’s hilariously awkward attempts at perfecting his jumps J Thanks Dave
The volunteer week simply consisted of educating the local students refurbishing 4 school buildings, constructing an incinerator/incinerator roof, repairing a damaged walkway and constructing a compost. All within Naivucuni district primary School.
Two cinderblock structured buildings, one which was used for a library and classroom 1 & 2, the headmaster’s office and a small storage room, and the other which had classroom 3. These buildings had the inside and outside sanded with any hazardous sharps removed. All classrooms received two coats of paint on each wall and the ceiling, including a feature wall and the black boards repainted. The outside of the buildings received two coats of the VESA striped design on the outside. The wooden overhang also had any excess dirt scrubbed down with two coats of off white paint on the ceiling, and the railing painted violet.
A wooden structured building which contained classrooms 4,5 & 6, along with a single male and female toilet block dividing the classrooms. This building and received two coats of the VESA striped design with the toilet block painted light purple (see photos), with two incredible male and female murals.
The final building was a kindergarten which was a timber structured building. It had been sanded inside and out along with any hazardous sharps (staples/nails) removed. The building also received two coats of light purple paint on the outside along with dark purple paint on the railings and also some fun mural designs for the kids. The inside also had all hazardous sharps removed and sanded down with two coats of skye cloud paint on the walls and two coats of white on the celling along with some educational mural designs.
During the week Tony did a fantastic job taking charge in building the compost, installing an incinerator and repairing a damaged walkway. The walkway however required some Fijing locals to help as the construction work was deemed unsafe for the volunteers.
Manta season is coming to an end and we were having trouble finding them. The volunteers were a little disheartened so we took the boats to a reef on the other side of the island to snorkel on a reef. One of the Fijian boys, Pyro, had brought a spear along so we went spear fishing with him and that was amazing. What really perked the volunteers up was on our way back to the boat to leave I spotted a white-tip reef shark and signalled everyone to follow me, and then Ben found a second shark. We even saw a sea turtle on the boat ride so it turned disappointment into a big surprise.
During the volunteer week the volunteers walked upstream of the river to the usual deeper swimming area, where there was a section volunteers could climb up the side of a rock and cannon ball into the water. However, this one particular afternoon, the local Fijians boys captured and killed a live bat, which then lead to building a fire next to the swimming area, cleaning, BBQing and feasting on this bat. Incredible to see.
Cat and I were lucky enough to stay with the chairman of the village Naivucini. On our last night in the village, our family had their nephew and niece over for dinner and kava. We were asking about the village, its history and about their family. It turns out that our village family comes from the fire-walking clan. Years ago, the men were the only people in Fiji able to walk across fire until they gave away the power to a clan from the island of Beqa where you now have to go to see fire walking. Our cousin told us that the only way they would get their power back was if a man from the fire-walking clan on Beqa came back to Naivucini and touched their hand. Although they can’t walk on fire, our cousin told us he has the power to heal burns just by touching them. I told him if he came to America with me, we could make a killing :p
The education program at Soleira School was especially enjoyable because of the enthusiasm of both the volunteers and students. Our lesson included the different habitats around the world, where the volunteers grouped themselves together created a lesson plan on a specific habitat and planned an activity that related to that habitat.
Some of the activities included a ‘Simon says’ game, dances, acting and drawing of different environments. Because my lesson on stages of life was so successful in the last village we carried out a similar lesson with the students of Solera.
Again the volunteers spoke to the students and brainstormed with them about their:
A cinderblock structured building used for Classrooms 1-4 This building had the inside and outside sanded with any hazardous sharps removed, the inside of the building received two coats of paint and each wall and the ceiling, including the feature dividing wall painted and the black boards repainted. The outside of the building received two coats of the VESA striped design on the outside, including the local. The wooden overhang also had any excess dirt scrubbed down with two coats of off white paint on the ceiling, and the poles painted violet.
One corrugated iron building, which was used for a Dining hall had the outside painted two coats with the facer boards painted off white.
A single male and female cinderblock structured toilet building and received two coats of dark purple, off white paint on the overhang, with two incredible male and female murals. Tony also had the leaking toilets mended and reshaped the bathroom floor so the and water on the floor could be drained.
A single wooden structured building which was used as a Library, had the outside scraped and sanded. The outside also received two coats of Violet, with the roof trims painted off white.
The 2nd building was a double story cinderblock structure; the bottom story of the building was still under construction. The top story contained two classrooms, the outside of the classrooms was sanded down and had any hazardous sharps removed (note there was some unreachable bits left un-sanded on the larger building due to the height of the structure and safety of the volunteers). The building also received two coats of the light purple on the outside of the building, with the local Fijians building temporary scaffolding to reach the sides of the second story. The overhang having any excess dirt scrubbed down and two coats of off white paint. The overhang metal poles were also stripped of any excess paint with a base and final two coats of dark purple paint. The inside of each two classrooms were also completely refurbished with sharp objects removed and sanded down along with two coats of paint including a feature wall and the black board repainted.
The final building was a kindergarten which was a timber structured building. It had been sanded inside and out along with any hazardous sharps (staples/nails) removed. The building also received two coats of light purple paint on the outside and also some fun mural designs for the kids. The inside also had all hazardous sharps removed and sanded down with two coats of skye cloud paint on the walls and two coats of white on the celling with amazing murals painted on all walls.
Late one evening on Korovu, after the party had ended, a few volunteers stayed up to catch the tail end of the Perseiid Meteor Shower. After seeing countless shooting stars we saw a tiny blue light glowing on the beach. After a quick look we figured out it was bioluminescent algae, and so we headed down to the ocean.
We spent hours stomping around in the shallow water because each step caused an eruption of blue light around our feet. It was like a scene from Avatar, and one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life.
During this manta ray dive the group got to experience three massive rays on numerous occasions for the longest period we have been out there. One particular manta ray was playfully outing on a show literally meters below us spinning around and showing off. One of the local guides then dived down underneath the playful manta for approximately 5mins of which the Ray continued to spin around him. An experience the group will never forget
The ladies of Soleira village held a fundraiser on that Saturday to raise money to rebuild their church that was extremely old and run down. They set up bamboo and tin shelters in the school field where they hosted kava and dancing from 10am to 10pm. The ladies were dressed in their beautiful chambas and were so entertaining with their coordinated dancing and singing. It was such a great view to have while working on the school. Right after we finished with work, the group went home to shower and then met up at the fundraiser and found our spot around the tanoa bowl. People from surrounding villages even attended so the crowd was huge and the vibe was amazing. The ladies ended up raising 25,000 Fijian dollars for their church! Pretty impressive!
Group 7 was fortunate enough to do education at the Naitisiri District High School. Upon arrival I discussed with the headmaster the possible issues that the school had. I was informed that teenage pregnancy and overall classroom negligence was the reason for low exam score levels. I approached Vunidawa District Hospital in search of teaching aids to promote sexual abstinence for young adults. I came out with several slide shows involving STI’s and teen pregnancy.
The volunteers were allocated a STI to speak about: Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, HIV and AIDS, Pubic Lice, Syphilis, Trichomoniasis and Hepatitis B was our main focus.
We even did a demonstration on how to put on both a male and female condom using a hammer and piping. (YES, I KNOW). Teen pregnancy was also briefed, including the importance of finishing ones studies, educating oneself, getting a job and setting goals before making a family.
The second presentation I had the volunteers talking about what they studied in school, we had educators, hotel workers, psychology students and PE students speak about their experience in university and work and explain the importance of finishing high school.
Day 1: Prepping walls of buildings 3, 4 and 5 by sanding, scraping and removing nails. Started painting ceilings, doors and window sills inside and out. Metal walkway poles scraped.
Day 2: Sills, ceilings and doors completed. Started painting the insides of buildings 3, 4 and 5. First coats all finished, second coats started. Windows and doors of building 1 and 2 started. Metal walkway poles painted.
Day 3: Finished all classrooms in buildings 3, 4 and 5. Taped stripe on buildings 2, 3, 4 and 5. Started painting outside of buildings 3, 4 and 5. Inside of buildings 1 and 2 started. Dark purple on building 1 started.
Day 4: Finished inside of building 1 and 2. Second coats of all outside paint finished barring the stripe on most buildings. Started walkway poles.
Day 5: Finished painting completely on all buildings. Facer boards of walkway painted. Stripe painted on buildings. Touch ups completed on all buildings. Compost built and painted. Walkway poles finished second coat. VESA logo finished. School crest finished
Josh and I were following a group of four manta rays when the lead manta made a wide sweeping turn around us. The other 3 followed in suit and suddenly we were being circled by four massive manta rays that were so close we had to pull our arms and legs back to keep from touching them. We could see right into their eyes and they were just generally curious, staring back at us.
And we managed to get the whole thing on video!
On Friday and Saturday of the Volunteering week the school was hosting their annual rugby 7s tournament fund raiser. Once we finished our half days work on Saturday all the volunteers got to experience the full force of the Fijian boys play their beloved game. Ben, Wes and my self was also honoured to present the awards at the end of the tournament.
On the Friday and Saturday of our work week on the school, Naitisiri District Secondary School hosted a rugby tournament to raise money for a computer lab. The tournament had two leagues competing in it; high school and men’s in which teams were invited from surrounding villages and schools.
The tournament created an exciting atmosphere at the school for the VESA group as there was a live band performing, team’s practicing at all corners of the school and the sidelines filled with cheering students and family members. On the Friday, I found a group of volunteers gathered together laughing and cheering, watching a team warm up. When I approached them to see what was going on, they told me that our own team, the Naitisiri District school team had recruited one of our volunteers, Stuart, to play with them. They had given him their #1 jersey with matching shorts, socks and a pair of cleats.
A minute of panic went through me as we all know Fijian rugby players are never small guys;) We let the volunteers take a quick break to watch Stuart and our team play. Stuart did an amazing job warming the bench and was told by his teammates they were “saving him for the big game tomorrow.” With the team having only one win and a tie, the game on Saturday morning was really important… and unfortunately Stuart didn’t make the cut. That didn’t discourage him though as he high-fived the team after the game and thanked them for his 15 minutes of fame in the Fiji rugby world!