OVER the past three years, 700 university students have visited our shores with the primary purpose of providing clean water for schools in rural outposts, promoting green waste disposal and teaching English to young students.
As a result, village communities in the Western and Eastern Divisions have greatly benefitted as the voluntourism sector grows from strength to strength.
Under the Volunteer Eco-Students Abroad (VESA) program, students from as close as Australia and New Zealand and as far away as Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland have helped seven village communities and schools receive clean and safe drinking water.
Shona Luciani-McDowell, VESA's director of International Programs said it was not all blood, sweat and tears the volunteer students also had an opportunity to frolic in the sun, laze under coconut trees and snorkel in turquoise waters. "They spend a week in village communities where they assist in the Water for Life program by assisting in the building of water catchments and teaching English at village schools before we take them on awesome adventures tours of the Yasawa Islands," Ms McDowell said.
A vital link to VESA's continuing success is their partnership with Suva-based non-government organisation Community Support Network (CSN).
"CSN plays a huge role in identifying rural communities in need of assistance and make the first approach to the village chief after which, we inspect the premises and ensure that our students have adequate facilities.
"Fiji is the only country where we allow students to live with host families," Ms McDowell said.
With a further 500 or more students scheduled to visit the country later this year, voluntourism is on the rise thanks to the efforts of programs like VESA.
VESA's Western Division programs are centred around Biau Sevu, Lomawai, Momi and Namatakula villages.