Bula! I’m the IVHQ Fiji Program Manager, which means I’m the person to speak to for everything you need to know about being a volunteer in Fiji. Fiji is an awesome place, with a relaxed vibe, an island lifestyle and some of the friendliest people you’ll find anywhere. To help you see why volunteering in Fiji is right for you, or to help those who are preparing to go there already, I’ve pulled together this list of the 10 best things about being a volunteer in Fiji.
1. You’ll experience the real Fiji
Too many people visit Fiji and leave without getting to enjoy the true magic of the country. That magic comes from the Fijian people, who will blow you away with their kindness, enthusiasm and their sense of humor. Fiji is about so much more than resorts, Insta-beaches and lazing by the pool, and by being a volunteer in Fiji, you’ll get to experience the best parts of the island that most travellers will miss.
IVHQ volunteers get 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. With program fees starting from just $370, experiencing the real Fiji and contributing to sustainable development projects is also significantly less expensive than the typical Fijian holiday you see on Facebook.
2. You’ll be made to feel like family
This flows on from my first point, and again is down to the amazing local people. One of the most common bits of feedback we get from IVHQers is how much of an impact the locals had on them. You’ll be blown away by the welcoming and 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 sings a farewell song in both Fijian and English, which will stay with you as an emotional reminder of the bonds you made in Fiji.
3. You’ll eat like a local
The cuisine in Fiji is a unique infusion of Indian, Asian and Pacific influences. You can expect dishes like curry, roti, noodles, fresh coconut cream, fish, eggplant, taro and cassava. You can also get a coconut picked fresh off the tree and cracked right in front of you! 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 to choose from. Not to mention the mounds of fresh herbs and spices. Foodie heaven!
4. Your weekend options are awesome
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 offshore islands. 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, you will thank me for this later.
Bringing a small backpack for weekend excursions is also a good idea - this way you can leave things behind and only take the essentials. Also, don’t forget sunscreen (this can be expensive to purchase in Fiji), a sunhat, your swimsuit and your camera!
5. Kava ceremonies
Participating in a traditional kava ceremony usually doesn’t cross the itinerary of many tourists in Fiji, but volunteers have the opportunity to experience one firsthand. 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 as a celebratory drink, and it’s 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 represent and guide you. 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).
Coming from New Zealand, I thought we were the most rugby-mad nation on the planet. Fiji has convinced me otherwise. The local newspaper doesn’t feature a ‘Sports’ section, but instead a ‘Rugby’ section. All the biggest brands feature rugby stars in their advertising, and many towns have billboards dedicated to successful local players.
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, and they love to get a ball out and play for hours. If you haven’t played before, this is a great place to start!
7. The bright clothes and bare feet
Fiji wouldn’t be Fiji without the youthfulness of the locals. There is something about bare feet, bright clothes and dressing from head to toe in floral print that just lifts your spirits. 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 normal for both men and women to wear a sulu (or sarong). If you don’t have one, don’t worry, you’ll head to Jacks clothing on your orientation, and you can pick one up there if you want.
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 unless you want to join the locals in going barefoot too.
Photo: @emily_r_hayward via Instagram
9. 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. Fiji time means that, while you arrange for something to happen at 3 o’clock, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t start until 3.30. It’s not being rude or lazy, but is just a symptom of the relaxed approach Fijians take to things.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to meet locals who have returned home from Australia to escape the stress of bigger city living and keeping to timelines. 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.
9. The volunteers from all over the globe
Despite the remote location of Fiji, 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 the UK, Europe and the USA, 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 space to make lasting friendships, share stories and learn about the local culture. Don’t forget to bring something from home to share with everyone (or perhaps just hide your favorite 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!