10 Things Volunteers in Fiji Should Prepare For
Looking to volunteer in Fiji? As the IVHQ Fiji Program Manager, I’ve visited Fiji a number of times and I’m in daily communication with volunteers prepping to join the program. To support future IVHQers in their preparations and to provide some insight into volunteer projects in Fiji!, I’ve pulled together this list of 10 things volunteers in Fiji should prepare for…
1. Prepare to experience the real Fiji
For those who have only experienced Fiji vicariously through the Facebook photos of friends, it’s easy to picture 5-star resorts, tourists lazing by the pool and Instagramable beaches. Volunteering in Fiji with IVHQ provides volunteers with the opportunity to engage with locals in their everyday environments, whether it be through teaching and sports education, kindergarten support or working in construction and renovation projects within local schools, communities and villages in Fiji. With program fees starting from just $390, experiencing the real Fiji and contributing to sustainable development projects is also significantly less expensive than experiencing the Fiji you see on Facebook.
2. Prepare to feel like part of the family
It’s not uncommon to hear from IVHQers that the interactions with the locals they meet are what make the volunteer experience so special, and volunteers in Fiji are sure to experience the same. When visiting our Fiji volunteer program in Suva and spending time with the local team, teachers, students and families who our volunteers will be working with, I was truly blown away by the welcoming and incredibly kind nature of the adults, as well as the children. While the family units are very tight in Fiji, it is clearly a case of the more the merrier, as volunteers will instantly feel welcomed and part of the family when volunteering and living among the local community. When you depart the program, the team sing a farewell song in both Fijian and English, and is an emotional reminder of the bonds made in Fiji.
3. Prepare to eat like a local
The cuisine in Fiji is infused from Indian and Asian influence. You can expect dishes like curry, roti, noodles, fresh coconut cream, eggplant, taro and cassava. Volunteers in Fiji can enjoy home cooked meals with locally-sourced ingredients in the comfort of the volunteer accommodation. You’ll likely try food that you have never heard of before so it’s essential to be open to trying new things! If you’re a keen foodie like me, you’ll also be in your element when visiting the local markets, with stacks of fresh pineapple, whole coconuts and mangoes sold by the plate full. Not to mention the mounds of fresh herbs and spices. Foodie heaven!
4. Prepare to travel in your weekends
It’s not uncommon for the volunteer house to empty out during the weekends with volunteers taking advantage of the pristine coast lines, beaches and rainforests. Common spots for volunteers to visit include the Pacific Harbour, Nadi or even taking a boat to go island hopping. Whether it’s endless scuba diving and snorkelling, hiking through the forests or just relaxing on the white sand beaches, Fiji has plenty to lure you away with in your free time. With that being said, just make sure you prepare by budgeting accordingly (volunteers find around US$150 per weekend trip is enough) and packing appropriately. An extra towel is a must - even though it may take up extra room in your bag, I assure you will thank me for this later. A small backpack for the weekend is also a good idea, this way you can leave many of your volunteer things behind and travel light with only the essentials. Also don’t forget sunscreen (this can be expensive to purchase in Fiji), a sunhat, your swimsuit and your camera!
5. Prepare to join a kava ceremony
Participating in a traditional kava ceremony usually doesn’t cross the itinerary of many tourists in Fiji, however volunteers have the opportunity to experience a ceremony first hand. Kava is a traditional drink in the South Pacific, derived from the root of the piper methstyicum plant and is used as a mild sedative to create a relaxed social atmosphere. Kava is consumed regularly in villages for celebrations and rituals and is customary for visitors to present a gift of yaqona (kava root) to the village chief. The procedures of the ceremony can be a tad confusing for first-timers, but not to worry - the Fijian people are very patient and our local team will guide you through the process. Remember to wear modest clothing if you’re invited into a village (sarongs are useful to have handy) and take off your hat when in the village (as wearing one is an insult to the chief).
6. Prepare to take the bus
Most volunteers arriving to Fiji will land in Nadi International airport and from here you have the option to take a connecting flight to Suva, or to catch the bus. While the flight is a much quicker option (30 minutes), the bus can save you a lot of money (expect to pay around FJD$14) and provides a fantastic scenic introduction to the Fiji coastline. Once you’ve arrived to Suva, the bus experience doesn’t stop there, with the local bus traveling past the volunteer house every hour and providing FJD$1 trips to town. You may think why on earth would a bus ride be fun? That’s because you haven’t experienced the bus in true Fijian spirit. With open air windows, flashing strobe lights and a sounds system to boot, traveling by bus is a must when visiting Fiji. Just another way Fijians lift your spirit.
Photo: @jjjaccc via Instagram
7. Prepare for rugby
Coming from New Zealand, I thought we were the most rugby-mad nation on the planet. Fiji convinced me otherwise. The local newspaper doesn’t feature a ‘Sports’ section, but instead a ‘Rugby’ section and all the biggest brands are sporting rugby stars throughout their advertising. Our Teaching and Sports Education volunteers in particular will have the opportunity to get amongst Fiji’s passion for rugby and help develop the skills of young players. While the rugby posts aren’t made out of bamboo in New Zealand, the same rules apply…
8. Prepare for bright colors and bare feet
Fiji wouldn’t be Fiji without the youthfulness of the locals. There is something to be said about bare feet, bright colours and dressing from head to toe in floral print that lifts your spirts. So leave your black and white at home, pack bright and bold, and prepare for laid back and casual dress style. In Fiji, it’s the norm for both men and women to wear a sulu (or sarong), if you don’t have one already, not to worry - – you’ll head to Jacks clothing on Monday of orientation, there you will be able to choose from a wide variety of colours and prints. While it’s common for volunteers to wear sulus to the volunteer placement, the only time a sulu is traditionally required is when you are invited into a local village. Shoes should always be taken off when entering someone’s house or any other village building out respect, so bring your flip flops or you’ll be going barefoot too.
Photo: @emily_r_hayward via Instagram
9. Prepare for Fiji Time
Our volunteers in Africa are familiar with the term “Africa Time” - the excuse to operate a bit behind schedule, given the slower-paced lifestyle in Africa. This laid back and stress-free way of life also applies to Fijian culture and many of the locals I met in Fiji had spent time living in Australia, but had returned to Fiji to escape the stress of bigger city living and to be closer to family. Moral of the story - prepare to come across the friendliest people you’ve ever met, but keep in mind that when making arrangements, Fiji Time sometimes applies.
10. Prepare to meet volunteers from all over the globe
Despite the remote location of the small series of Fijian Islands, you won’t feel far away from home once you arrive to the volunteer house and meet your new volunteer family. With volunteers traveling from as far as UK, Europe and the USA to as close as Australia and New Zealand, there is no better place to share new experiences with your new found friends than in Fiji. Living in the volunteer house in Fiji provides an awesome living quarters to make lasting friendships, share stories and learn about the local culture from the Fijian team. Don’t forget to bring something from home to share with everyone (or perhaps just hide your favourite peanut butter spread).
Photo: @_melissaMwest via Instagram
Visit our Volunteer in Fiji page to learn more about the awesome volunteer opportunities on offer in Fiji with IVHQ, or hit the button below to apply!