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A first timer's Fiji experience

Solomoni Biumaiono
Thursday, January 17, 2013

PEACE Corp volunteer, Miles Owen has become used to the harsh and jagged landscape that is the Namosi highlands.

While everyone was still trying to pick up the pieces after Cyclone Evan had wreaked havoc in these gorges, Owen is already at work helping some college students from the United States install some water filters in a Namosi village.

Owen had adapted to the stifling humidity of the Central Division while his fellow countrymen were struggling with it.

It has only been four months since Owen first set foot in Fiji, and as a member Peace Corp he has been seconded to the Navua Health Centre where he is to serve his two-year stint as a volunteer.

Sitting under the shade of a coconut tree on the edge of the Nakavika village green, Owen recalled his years as a wilderness fire fighter straight after leaving high school in 2005.

"I didn't go straight into college but instead went to become a fire fighter in California with the US Forest Services. I just felt like wanting to explore the world a little bit."

Owen said fighting wild fires are a different experience as these kinds of fires burn uncontrollably and can burn vast tracts of land.

"It was a lot of dirty work but an amazing experience," Owen said.

After four years of working as a fire fighter, Owen decided to go back and do his college degree, which he did and graduated with a degree in Emergency Medical Care last year.

Straight after graduation, Owen decided to volunteer his services to the Peace Corp which is a volunteer organisation run by the US Government where US citizens volunteer their expertise and services in many countries around the world.

Before the end of last year, the 25-year-old was already on his way to Fiji and straight into his two month training exercise at a village in Tailevu.

"I have never travelled outside of the US, and yeah, the only thing I have heard about Fiji is about the sun and the beaches, but I had to do more research in order to at least know something about the country," he said.

The ancient history of cannibalism did churn his stomach, but Owen is adamant that Fiji's modern polka dotted history can only be justified by actually experiencing it.

"It did (research) help a bit because it gave me a base, but the Fijian people and culture is more complex and living with the Fijian people is the best way to find out," he said.

After his training in Tailevu, he is still trying to learn the languages, but he is already settled in well with the health authorities in Navua.

"Navua is great. The Ministry of Health is good and there has been a lot of support from the community but all through this, I am still learning to cope with it. One thing I have learnt is that the locals are patient with volunteers."

The three core values of his work as a health volunteer are non-communicable diseases, maternal child health and water and sanitation.

Owen said through the Nakavika water filer program and the wellness committee work with the Navua Health authorities are two programs he is working with right now to fulfil his core values.

"The third is a bit out of sync with the core values but since it is an area that I am qualified in and something that I am passionate about, I am thinking of perhaps going into this area," he said.

As a qualified paramedic, Owen really hopes to help train locals in paramedic care where first response teams are imparted further knowledge that can make a difference for emergency patients before doctors and hospitals take over.

He hopes to work closely with the Health authorities through the national ambulance services to impart further knowledge.