Day 13: One More Day

Our last day in Fiji. What to say about an amazing trip, with some amazing people, who  I can now call friends? During this trip we all became one single family; having lunch together, playing together and also working a lot together. Sadly, all good things must come to an end.

The last day was pretty much the same as the other ones as people weren’t worried about the trip back home. We were enjoying the sun and the amazing beach here in Fiji. The day started pretty early with the surfers leaving at 6:00AM from the hotel while the others slept. People who were snorkeling left around 9:45AM and I was going to go scuba diving not far from where the surfers were. In that morning dive I was able to see some stingrays and a blue spotted ray, which it looked amazing, and also a moray eel. The people who went snorkeling saw a green turtle coming up for some air. When we came back it was almost an hour until lunch so Pedro and I went kayaking. The water was warm and clear but the conditions were not the best. There was a lot of current and a lot of wind so we came back inside.

Lunch today was amazing. We had an option to choose between chicken, beef, tuna or vegetables to make our burger with fries. It was so good! Later in the afternoon while the rest of the group went to play touch rugby, I went diving again, but in another spot called Channel where we saw some big fish and sharks. We got in the water and saw some big snappers. Later on we spotted a leopard shark right by the wall of the reef. It was a good-sized one, but my instructor told me they grow almost double that size. When we looked back we see this eagle ray following us from behind. We also saw a giant guitar shark in the sand hiding. When we came close, it just swam away very fast. We saw some amazing fish and the corals were amazing. The colors were bright and the fish were even better. Later in the dive, near where the boat was anchored, we saw two white tipped reef sharks.

When I came back the group was returning to the hotel. While I was in the pool relaxing a little, they arrived and we played volleyball. It was really fun to play with Kai. We almost came back from 10-2. The final score was 11-8. After that everyone went to get ready for dinner, which it was amazing! There was chicken curry with rice. It was spicy and my mouth was burning.

Today was a very productive day. I think everybody enjoyed it. As our last day in this paradise, it was amazing. I personally was very happy and excited for today. I feel like the rest of the group was too. This trip went by so fast- it felt like a week, but it was one of the most amazing trips I have ever been on. Thanks to our chaperons for planning and taking care of us this whole trip. Thanks to the Ross School for giving the group and I this amazing opportunity and life lessons. See you back in the Big Apple.

Goodbye Fiji. We are going to have memories of you for a long time and thank you for making this group one big FAMILY!

-Luis

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Day 10: Coral Reef Restoration and Our Return to Mainland

Today as usual I woke up at 6:00am and headed to breakfast at 7:00am. At 8:00am we did a mindfulness meditation session. We also did two other activities. The first activity we did was go around in a circle and say things that we loved. A highlight of the game was when Martin said that he loved pandas. The second activity we did was go around in a circle and talk about our golden moments. A golden moment is a time where you feel you shined the most. Everyone’s golden moments were really sweet and thought out.

After that some of the high school students we met yesterday, who study marine biology, came to do some reef conservation activities. We were thus split into three different groups. Each group was assigned a reef protection project. One group was on land planting mangroves, the other group was identifying fish and the last group (my group) was re-planting the reef.

It was the perfect day to go snorkeling. The water was crystal clear and amazingly blue. Fiji is truly an astounding place. Everything is so colorful and fresh. It was a very low tide so we had to walk a bit far to get to the good zone. Once we reached the spot we had to dive down and grab bits of the fallen reef. We collected a lot of the reef. I saw so many beautiful fish whilst I was down there. My favorite fish that I saw was a little neon blue fish that zapped around. After we collected enough reef pieces we headed back to the shore to take a quick snack break. After our little break we headed back out to replant the reef. In order to re-plant the reef we had to dive really deep and attach the pieces to a cage contraption thus restoring the reef. It was really fun but alas it had to come to an end.

We came back to the shore and had some time before lunch. I spent my time packing my bag and then I ate some lunch. Lunch was our final meal. It was a bittersweet affair. The friends we made at the resort, all local villagers, sang us a beautiful goodbye song, and Miss. London, as always, cried. After lunch we had some time before we had to leave the island. I spent my free time playing volleyball, swinging in the hammock and going for a final swim. We left at 2:15 to head to the main island. The boat ride to the main island takes around four hours. The boat ride is very nice. I sat in the front and the ocean breeze is so relaxing. Sadly I got insanely burnt but it’s ok because it’s Fiji.

Fiji is amazing -on the boat ride we were able to see a bunch of different islands. Each island is different and breathtaking. After our boat ride we headed to our hotel. We ate dinner and saw a slideshow of our trip thus far. The photos were really nice. It’s crazy to see how much we have done in such a short amount of time. I feel like I have been in Fiji for months and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for the rest of the trip!

My trip thus far has been absolutely amazing. I have become friends with so many new people. I have seen and experienced so many things that I never thought I would be able to do. Fiji is truly a wonderful place. The locals are so welcoming and happy. Everyone is constantly smiling and the group as a whole works really well together. I love this trip so much and I am so thankful that I decided to go on it. Although we are nearing the end there is still so much more to see and experience in Fiji and I hope the rest of the trip is as amazing as the beginning.

-Rory

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Day 9: Visit to Yasawa High School

Today, we went to the Yasawa high school in another part of Naviti Island. We went a little further than Soso village. On the way, we divided into two groups and took two different boats to get there faster. As soon as we arrived at the island, students who were waiting for us began singing welcome songs with guitars, gave us homemade flower necklaces and introduced their school briefly.

It was a boarding school from primary school to tertiary school. According to their introduction, we were surprised that they have had high system of education with lack of supply. We could get the positive energy from them smiling all the time.

We were divided into four groups to prepare for lunch and we had a chance to communicate with students and teachers from the school. We saw them create the traditional lovo (fire pit) oven. The students showed us how to weave the lovo baskets using palm leaves and in the baskets the chickens and potatoes were placed. They cooked chickens and sweet potatoes with basam (coconut milk) on it. They put the woven baskets of food in the fire on the bottom of a pit and packed it with coconut leaves, covered it with a tarp and buried it in soil. They allowed the pit to cook the food for about an hour.  We also learned how to make a rose with coconut leaves.

Before we had lunch, we had a welcome ceremony where the students sang to us. The principal and Hailey gave speeches. Tema (one of the Vinaka Fiji coordinators) presented the donations we bought to a school teacher, as well as two sewing machines to be donated to the home economics program at the school. After the ceremony, some of students came to shake hands with us and were interested in us. For lunch, we had sweet potatoes, fried rice, chicken, seaweed, and lemon juice. The plating was special because it was made of woven palm leaves.

Lastly, we had rugby and volleyball games with the students. They were so fast and powerful, but we managed to score one goal. Today was the first and the last day spending time with the high school kids. Even though it was really short, we could feel appreciation from and for them. To end the day back at Botaira (our home base), we had beach fire after dinner at the resort. All of us enjoyed the music and throwing coconuts in the fire.

-Hitomi and Yoora

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Day 8: Service Commences

Today was a bittersweet day. It was the third and final day of our community service and the end of our projects at Soso village. A few hours were spent waiting for the rain to pass over, which people either spent sleeping, or for a select few, painting. After a few hours the rain settled and everyone went back to work either fixing the bathrooms, setting cement, putting water tanks in place, etc… Everyone who started his or her work finished it. Finishing the boys bathroom was a bit of a stretch but everyone was assiduous and diligent in painting, most likely due to the time crunch and the euphoria of the project coming to a close.

After our work was finished, there was a ceremony of thanks and goodbye. The Chief of the island, Ratu Titone Vuluma even attended the ceremony, which was special and showed the impact our actions had on this village. It was incredible. The children sang two songs; the first one was a song of thanks and the final one was a goodbye song. Ms. London was seated next to the Chief and during her speech and other speeches people cried. There were also two prayers; one for good luck and the other for thanks. This was expected as Christian missionaries arrived on Fiji, and luckily outlawed cannibalism. They made it their little project to turn everyone Christian. It showed the impact and influence other cultures had on Fiji. Another example of European influence is the school structure system, which names prefects and head boys and girls.

When the ceremony was over the villagers prepared an elaborate tea and pastry party. There was tea, biscuits, donuts, roti and other treats for us, which showed the Fijian generosity. They were not forced to do this. They just did it out of the good in their hearts. The children were incredibly friendly and showed the spirit of Fiji by the way that they danced and sang. They would jump on us with joy rather than with the intent to do bodily harm and would constantly sing in a way that can never be replicated or faked. The children and the adults were genuine and kind and welcomed us with open arms.

One thing that was not shown was the hard work the villagers did to prepare for the dry season. Every bit of water, wood, tools, cardboard, paper etc. is used to the fullest. Water is a precious resource that is not to be trifled with. They have to live off the water from the wet season for six months and often times the Fijian government will not respond to the villagers’ plea for simple resources. Therefore, they have to come up with alternative means of getting water which often resorts them to reuse and use dirty water that is filled with an abundance of bacteria and other microorganisms that cause bodily harm. But our school helped provide them with over 45000 liters of potential water, and for the first time in a long time, a running toilet and the first time ever, a flush toilet.

The time was very valuable in the village with the kids and the people, in general. In this precious three days we learned many things such as responsibility, how service really benefits both sides and how we could enjoy helping people as we learned from them .

-Martin and Dualta

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Day 7: Service Continues

As Ice Cube once said, “today was a good day.” Yesterday my group and I (Pedro) started to build the concrete base for the water tank. Today we were setting up the water system in the boy’s restroom. I feel honored to know that I am helping these kids by doing these kinds of activities. I consider today to be like a rose. I chose to relate the day to a rose because everything occurred perfectly as planned and even more beautifully. I sat down with a few kids inside the library with Luis, Matheus and Dualta to talk about global warming, physics, chemistry, animal diversity in the world and movies. We had fun, we learned and at the end of the day, I had the chance to swim in a beautiful ocean, on a beautiful island, with amazing people.

In addition to all of that, it was incredibly satisfying to see the work taking a final shape, and I am really excited to present the system that we are working on to the kids. Yesterday we painted both the boys and the girls toilet. It was really satisfying to see the bathrooms completely painted and with really shiny white, red and blue colors. Today we were working on completing the rain harvesting system that leads to a water tank. At first, I (Matheus) thought that the water would never get to the tank, because it has to go up a pipe to get to the tank. However, the head engineer explained to me that the system works with momentum since the building that is harvesting the rain is higher than the water tank. I learned a lot of new skills and could use some other ones that I have for putting the pipes together. I already knew how to use a saw, and fit pipes and elbows, so that was really helpful. I gained some shoveling skills to dig the holes for the pipes.

I (Matheus) am looking forward to seeing the projects tomorrow. I am also looking forward to explaining what I did for my senior project to the chief and villagers. It was basically a water usage system that measured how much water people are using, so they can be aware if they are wasting and eventually even shut down the water if it is running really low. I think the villagers could really use this project since the village constantly runs out of water. Another thing that went through my mind was that the project could be modified for water tanks instead of single showers.

In conclusion, helping these kids is bringing us endless satisfaction and it improved our skills and knowledge about water usage. Just to see different types of realities opens our minds to new ideas and concepts. We are looking forward to seeing what an amazing service these projects will provide when finished.

-Matheus and Petero (Pedro)

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Day 6: Giving and Receiving

On the fifth day experiencing the Fijian life – and after a lot of adventures and learning from the Fijian culture, people, and beautiful nature – we as a group finally had the chance to get our hands to work and help the Soso village.

After having an amazing breakfast with a beautiful ocean view, we left for a forty-minute boat ride around the island. We were amazingly received with a welcome song, which later you will have a chance to experience in our video projects. The students of The Ratu Apenisa Memorial School had smiles on their faces and were grateful for our help. Our task was to help rebuild from the 2016 cyclone and make some improvements around the school. After the rain passed and all the planning was organized, each group went to work, while wearing our sulus (sarongs) as a sign of respect to the people from the village.

One group started in the toilets – cleaning, painting and installing a new plumbing system – which finally will allow the kids from the village to have a basic clean sewage system. Another group did the concrete base for the bathroom’s water tank. The last group did the first step for the gutters system, which will make the water flow more accessible for the village.

Me, Joao Paulo, stayed in the group that took care of support for the water tank. This part of the service was really hands on, shoveling holes in order to get the soil for the concrete mixt, building a wooden frame for the concrete, digging trenches for the frame, and finally breaking a lot of big rocks in order to give a strong base for the concrete.

Me, Gianluca, worked in the first group, painting all the walls and doors from the bathrooms, and uninstalling the old sewage system from the bathrooms. This part of the service was also really hands on, like the other groups.

It was hard work and hot outside, but the thought of providing a basic need to such amazing people in order to make their lifestyles better motivated each and everyone of us every second. After the hard work and the amazing progress we made as a group, we had the chance to play and enjoy the sun with the kids. We ran around playing soccer, talking to them, and experiencing happiness and satisfaction in our hearts and minds.

This is what this trip has been about – finding happiness within each, and as a family, by giving to others basic needs and receiving life lessons from them at the same time. This is something we will take on for the rest of our lives.

The wonderful school from the village made a surprise for Kai by gathering the children to sing “Happy Birthday” in Fijian. They also gave him a native Fijian coconut drink. When we arrived home for our dinner, where we commemorated Kai’s birthday with music played by native Fijians. In addition to all of that, our resort’s chef cooked an amazing buffet.

-Gianluca and Joao

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Day 5: Exploring Fijian Culture

Today in preparation for the community service aspect of our trip we learned about the basics of Fijian language and a few traditional games. This will allow us to hold basic conversation with the locals that we will be working with, through their language, making a friendlier working environment.

An example of one of the games that we were taught was “Coconut Demo” which is a game similar to Bocce, but using coconuts and logs. We also learned how to throw a traditional Fijian spear, which was a traditional activity of Fijian culture. Not only do these games give us a taste of traditional Fijian culture, but also they show us how similar some aspects of traditional Fijian and American cultures are despite being geographically separated. Even though these were just games, they had a deeper meaning in introducing us to the interconnectivity of our societies.

Once we were finished with the educational part of the day, we continued our exploration of the reefs that lie past the shores of our home base. Even though the weather wasn’t too friendly, we enjoyed the island as if there were clear skies. Fortunately, the clouds cleared up in time to give way for a beautiful sunset.

We concluded the night with a team building exercise after dinner. Each of us took a personality inventory to decide what kind of animal best exemplified us. Each animal signified a different type of personality. I (Kai) was an eagle, which represented someone who is easy to work with, hard working, and will express my opinion when I feel it is important. In contrast to Kai’s animal, I (Rainier) was a buffalo. I expressed the characteristics of a leader, who will get stuff done. I am passionate, opinionated, and direct. Unfortunately I am also overly critical, which is something that I acknowledge and need to work on. If I had not done this personality exercise, I would probably not have decided to take action to improve this trait.

As individuals we feel like these experiences will not only help us when working with the villagers but it will also translate to other aspects of our life. When we go back to school, for example we will now know how to work better as a team and identify what roles we play as a part of the greater whole.

Still excited for what’s next, Kai and Rainier signing off….

-Kai and Rainier

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Day 4: Sense of Community

Today was an amazing day, not because of what we did or what we saw, but because of the overall experience. Ross is a school that is based off the concept of community, and after today I believe that this Field Academy revolves around community as well.

We arrived at our new location eager to see what waits. We were welcomed by open arms and flower necklaces- an overall sense of community the second we stepped off the boat and our feet hit the sand.

After a delicious lunch and a quick safety briefing we all headed directly into the water. Some snorkeled while others swam out to the floating diving board. Those snorkeling saw amazing fish and coral as they heard the cheerful screams of those jumping into the water.

Eventually a majority of us made it to the diving board. Every single person who was standing on the floating dock ended up drawing up enough courage to jump off. Personally, I was initially petrified to jump but I managed to do it thanks to everyone who was cheering me on and ensuring to me that it would be okay and that “no, I would not be eaten by a shark.”

Later on in the afternoon, after the swimming was over, we were told that there was an optional hike that we could take part in. Despite the fact that it was optional, nearly everyone gathered together at 5:00pm with his/her sneakers on ready to hike.

I did not know what to expect from the hike. Since it was spontaneous I thought it would be an easy hike – boy was I wrong! As we continued our trek up the mountain, the ground got muddier and the incline increased drastically. However, no one was ready to quit. In fact it was the exact opposite. Some were running up the mountain and others kept pace with the people in the back (I was in the back) and encouraged people to keep going and push themselves.

After the hike came to an end (somehow we all made it) it was time for dinner. Prior to our dinner we took part in our second traditional Kava ceremony of the trip. The kava ceremony is amazing- and allows us to experience a key part of Fijian culture and traditions hands on.

We ended our day with a sharing circle. The sharing circle gave us all an insight on how others felt about the trip so far (what they learned, what they liked, etc…) A key word from that ceremony was “community.” During the circle everyone said that they felt like the trip evoked a sense of community and that everyone on the trip is so encouraging and optimistic; I could not agree more. I am excited for tomorrow and for the remaining days of the trip…

-Rachel

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Day 4: Excitedly Awaiting…

Although the majority of us are still jet-lagged, we were able to wake up this morning at 6:30 for an early breakfast. We packed our bags and left the resort at 7:30 to catch a four hour long boat ride to Naviti Island. We’ll be staying at the Botaira Beach Resort where we will be carrying out the most worthwhile part of the trip, our service projects. Although today is mostly just travel and arrival, I wanted to gauge how the group as a whole feels.

I’ve been fascinated with the people of Fiji and their hospitality. I wasn’t able to walk down the street or take a bus ride without dozens of Fijians waving at us and screaming “Bula!” The scenery and vibrant colors are as beautiful as you can imagine, but it’s the people I’ve met that have really impressed me. I talked to some of my friends on the boat ride to see how they feel about Fiji so far and what their expectations are…

-Augie

Alex L: “My mind is blown by the mountains, water, and beautiful colors that surround Fiji.”

Manny: “I’ve never seen color like this before the clouds and trees and grass and sky are saturated and beautiful-but not bursting, not layered-and so my eyes see no complexity beneath a depthless, almost superficial purity. It’s as though everything we’ve seen so far was made to be liked.”

Julia: “Although everything so far has been beyond beautiful, I’m excited to begin our service work and get a feel for the real substance of Fiji.”

Nico: “I’m excited to the state of their living conditions and how we’re able to help them. Hopefully we can make a lasting impact on their community.”

Gianluca: “So far it’s been good and exciting, unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The Fijians are similar to Brazilians in their hospitality and are jut very nice people. I want to make the community service hours worthwhile and leaving an impact on the community.”

Kai: “I’m excited to work with the community and see what we do. I hope we’re able to see a real indigenous tribe and get a feel for what their culture is about.”

Hailey: “So far, I am so impressed with the students and their desire to jump in and embrace all that has been presented to us. I love that they are so eager to begin our service projects and that spirit of compassion makes this group exceptional. The people we have encountered have been so kind and we are excited to forge new relationships with the villagers of the Soso community. It is incredible that this is only day 3 on the ground as we are functioning like a well oiled machine of a group. Watching the students experience the sights and activities warms my heart and validates the many months of plans and hopes. They are handling the uncertainty of the schedule at times, beautifully and are open to unpredictability and new experiences. I had a feeling that this group would be truly exceptional, and I am gratefully seeing the evidence of that prediction”

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Day 3: Sleeping Giant

Everyone started the day with breakfast and many of us participated in yoga, while a few of us received a plethora of bug bites. We then had some down time until we drove to “The Best Fish and Chips in Fiji.” After a solid meal, we hopped on the bus and made our way to “Sleeping Giant Garden” and ” Sleeping Giant Mountain” where we would get a tour and go on a hike. Sleeping Mountain Park was created by actor Raymond Burr and hosts hundreds of orchids and beautiful flowering trees and paths. Once we [finally] reached the top of where we hiked, we were able to take in a stunning view of Fiji. Tomorrow we will get to see the reason they call it “Sleeping Giant” as we take a boat to our next location and see the shape of the mountain range from afar. After the hike, we went to a mud pool and hot springs. We covered each other in mud from head-to-toe and participated in relay-races. Being covered in mud was a weird experience for me, as I normally do not cover myself in mud. We hopped in a mud pool after the races, which felt terrible and amazing at the same time. Then we all went into a hot spring to wash the mud off. The rest of the day consisted of bonding time, dinner, a documentary about Fiji and then wondering what adventure we would all take head on tomorrow…

-Alex S.

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