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A taste of life in Fiji

Phoebe Amato-Pace
Thursday, September 12, 2013

IN the UK, the decision to have a gap year is popular among school and university graduates alike.

Every year thousands of students book flights, pack their backpacks and head to every corner of the earth in a bid to experience other cultures, to seek an adrenaline rush, or in some cases, to avoid the reality of settling into a "nine to five" job at home.

However, it is becoming increasingly popular to incorporate volunteer work into such plans too.

Having graduated earlier this year, I opened up my laptop and looked for just such an opportunity. This arose through a company called Frontier.

Frontier was established in 1989 as a non-profit conservation and development organisation. It offers a number of projects around the world, ranging from journalism to health care and places its volunteers in hostels or with host families while they carry out their work.

In Fiji, volunteers have recently been placed in schools and newspapers and there is also a group working on Beqa Island as part of a marine conservation project.

In my case, a month volunteering at The Fiji Times and living in a homestay seemed to be the perfect way to experience real Fijian life, while also giving something back to the community itself.

Everyone at the paper has been extremely kind and helpful and it has been great learning about how the newsroom is run on a day-to-day basis.

The chance to live in a homestay is undoubtedly another highlight of the Frontier experience.

This ensures that all volunteers can really immerse themselves in Fijian culture and if the rest of Suva's locals are as welcoming and caring as the family I have had the pleasure of living with, Fijians must be among the friendliest people on the planet.

Mr and Mrs Sokosoko make all the volunteers staying with them feel like a part of the family from the word go. This is clear from the many thank you tokens displayed in the homestay!

Upon a volunteer's arrival, he or she can expect to experience a celebratory kava ceremony and will become the daily recipient of fantastic, home cooked Fijian food, courtesy of Mamma.

Nothing is too much to ask and the homestay provides a great base for volunteers to head home to at the end of the day. It offers a secure and comfortable environment where they can get to know each other as well as their new family.

Ross Ziegelmeier, Frontier's project co-ordinator here in Suva corroborated this.

He stated that "a homestay gives volunteers an opportunity to interact with the Fijian way of life like no other way possible, which is deeply enriching".

There have even been cases where volunteers originally placed in hostels have chosen to relocate to homestay accommodation in order to experience such warm family life. When you are living so far away from home, it is such hospitality that can really make all the difference.

Life in a homestay has been a central part of my stay here and I am sure that all the other Frontier volunteers would join me in saying a big vinaka to Mr and Mrs Sokosoko and all the other homestays here in Suva.

When we return home our new Fijian families will be greatly missed!

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