Volunteer begins teaching in a Fijian village

21:02, Feb 14 2013
kristina oconnor
WELCOME: Kristina O'Connor shares a moment with some Fijian children.

Former Timaru Girls' High student Kristina O'Connor is travelling the world volunteering before she settles down into a career. She has settled into life in a tiny Fijian village volunteering at a school. This is her first report for The Timaru Herald.

Bula! It has been a month now that I have been in Fiji and boy it is amazing! I cannot believe what I have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.

My first week here was spent on orientation with 35 other volunteers from New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

The first five nights were spent in Nadi (Nandi). From there I visited the town of Lautoku and Nadi itself.

Also while on orientation, as a group we all attended an Indo Fijian night at a local Indian Fijian family's house.

For dinner we had traditional food that I cannot pronounce, let alone spell, but it was yum! Now, I am a fussy eater and if I'm being truthful, if Mum had served me it at home, I would have opted out. But being in the environment and atmosphere where you try everything, I did, and I enjoyed it.


While in Nadi we went to a village called Sabeto for church. This was such an amazing experience - getting to hear the choir singing and playing peek-a- boo with the children in the next pew. Afterwards we were shown around the village and also a traditional welcoming kava ceremony.

I also met a local - kiwi local! Mile. He was the spokesman of this village and as it turns out he had lived in Christchurch for a couple of years before moving to Geraldine to play rugby. He also worked at the freezing works from 2002 to 2006, so if you know him, he says 'Hi'.

From Nadi it took two days travel via Suva and Levuka before I made it to my new home. I am now living in a village called Toki, 15 minutes drive north of Levuka on the island of Ovalau.

Moving into village life has definitely been a complete cultural immersion into a welcoming and laid back way of life. I am living in the school compound with the headmaster and his family.

My host family has a mum, dad, brother aged 10 and a sister aged 13, and we live in a two-bedroom house. I have landed on my feet house-wise as the European Union built it only a few years ago. But a big change I have had to get used to is the sleeping arrangements. I have my room with a bed, and the kids sleep on the floor on thin foam mattresses.

When I moved into Toki I was part of an official welcoming, a Sevusevu, in the chief's house. This was an experience I will never forget, my first proper introduction to my village, sitting right up front while we had "grog", kava. There is a lot of kava consumed here but it is a part of the culture and it is a great way to get out and socialise.

Now for the reason I am here - volunteering. My placement is at Ratu Seru Memorial School. It is a primary school with 120 students and a kindergarten of 30 children. For the first couple of weeks I was helping out around the school, assisting in class 5 and 6 and taking physical education for all years.

I now have my own classroom, a roll of seventeen 10- to 12-year-olds and the chance to be a teacher!

Events of the past few weeks in Toki have included a hike up through the bush to what I would describe as a small water hole, but it was nice that for the first time in Fiji I had been cool. I now appreciate swimming so much more, and even just waking up during the night cold.

Also on February 6 at 2:30pm there was an official tsunami warning in place.

The staff had portable radios and while the headmaster and another few teachers closed up the school I organised the older children and matched them up with the wee ones and sent them on their way up the hill behind the school.

The whole experience of the afternoon was unforgettable and even though it was a false alarm, we were able to show the children the process of evacuation in the case of a tsunami.

The Timaru Herald