I had begun to consider volunteering overseas while I was completing my final semester of my Masters of Nutrition. Having spent many years studying, I was looking for some hands-on experience in the field and thought combining this experience with travelling would be a great way to celebrate my graduation. I did some research into a few volunteer organisations and attended an information session run by Projects Abroad. The session was very well presented, with a good overview of the different projects offered and what was expected during each. I also had the chance to speak with a few volunteers about their time abroad and it really fueled my interest in starting my own volunteering journey. I finally chose Fiji as my destination as it was one of the few places offering a nutrition project, and I looked forward to trading a month of wintery Melbourne for a tropical paradise!
Arrival and Host Family
When I arrived in Nadi I was greeted by a Projects Abroad staff member who escorted me to what would be my home for the next 4 weeks. I was then introduced to the most welcoming, loving and warm family I could have wished for! My host family had been hosting volunteers for years, so their young children were used to meeting and making friends with new faces! I was also lucky enough to have another volunteer staying at the house when I arrived, so she happily showed me around the house and explained how to get around town. I was lucky enough to be placed in a home that was very accommodating- we had our own section of the house, our own bathroom, hot water and even air conditioning! Breakfast and dinner was always eaten with the family and they packed us lunch to take along with us during the day. My lovely host mother was a wonderful cook, preparing local Fijian dishes as well as meals from our own cultures. We were also very happily treated to pancakes for breakfast on most days! It was clear however, that the accommodation experience between host families could vary greatly, with some volunteers living in very basic homes with limited hot water or laundry facilities. So it is best to keep an open mind about the living conditions you may be placed in! You really do become part of the family though, and when new volunteers came, it was my turn to show them the ropes!
Volunteering on the Nutrition Project
The aspect I loved most about the project was that there was no ‘typical day’. There was a structure to the weekly activities, but each time we visited a community we would listen and plan with the locals to help provide presentations or activities that they wanted. It was great to be a part of discussions and to help put forth ‘action plan’ goals for healthy living that we could work towards. We looked after three different communities and a school, and each week the work would vary from presenting information sessions regarding food and disease to community gardening or simply getting to know the locals and their way of life. I was also asked to lead Zumba classes, which became a very popular activity with all the locals! It was a great way to put a smile on everyone’s face, and to get both the young and old involved in healthy behaviours. I would encourage future volunteers to take the lead and get involved as much as you can with each activity, as the level of enthusiasm you show will be reflected in those you are teaching.
Free time in Fiji
My worries of feeling lonely or homesick when I came to Fiji were quickly washed away when I met all the other volunteers. We became our own little family, as we were all from different parts of the world and had this amazing experience to bond over. Weekends were spent visiting beautiful islands where we swam, hiked, took part in local traditions and dances, or simply lounged on the beach. We had the best of both worlds as volunteers in Fiji. After working and immersing ourselves in the ‘real’ Fiji during the week, we were also able to experience what the tourism industry had to offer.
Volunteering on the nutrition project in Fiji was simply invaluable. Not only did I learn important skills regarding health screenings (taking blood pressure, blood sugar, body fat readings and conducting nutrition counselling sessions), I was also able to put into practice what I already knew and teach the locals basic healthy living practices. It was extremely rewarding to hear the positive feedback and thanks during my last week. I truly felt as if I had made a difference in helping them lead a happier and healthier life! It has really fueled my passion for promoting healthy living, and I look forward to working within this industry in the future.
My advice to future volunteers is to head into this experience with an open mind and completely immerse yourself in it. Learn and appreciate the different culture, taste the local dishes and get to know the amazing people! Volunteering with Projects Abroad was one of the best experiences of my life and my only regret was that I didn’t stay for longer! I’ve made so many long lasting friendships with the locals, staff members and fellow volunteers and have learnt so many things about the world and myself. The adventures and memories made in Fiji will last a lifetime.