I was a volunteer Teaching Assistant in Fiji for 8 months in 2015. I was placed in – Nailuva District School – a rural primary school, surrounded by picturesque mountains, 2 hours away from its closest town. During the 8 months that I lived in Fiji I fell completely in love with the people, food, landscape and spirit. I don’t think there will ever be a time when I am over missing my experience … saying goodbye to it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do!
Primarily, I was a joint English teacher to 33 year 8 students. I planned lessons and homework across all subject areas (except Fijian), and prepared them for their external examinations. Alongside my volunteer partner, I also helped out with homework club, slow readers, school admin, the library and organising fundraising for the school. Every day was memorable and I made life changing relationships that I will forever cherish.
I learnt a new language … well kinda. I’m no way close to fluent but I am very proud of the fact I could joke and get round in Fijian. I cooked local dishes, I slept over in every village connected to the school, I danced and ate a lot, I jumped off waterfalls … I embraced the Fijian culture. I think that was the best part, embracing the Fijian culture, because without embracing all the difference (which could be frustrating at times) I wouldn’t have gained what I did as part of the work placement.
The growth of confidence I saw in myself, my placement partner and most importantly the locals was amazing. I was part of the second set of volunteers at my placement and for some of the students Lattitude volunteers were the first set of people from overseas they were in face to face contact with. From only embracing us with high fives and a smile to hugs and all the English they could muster, all of our lives were being enriched – it was a complete cultural exchange. What I learnt is that the difference that was being made was far bigger than helping with academics or building a footpath but it was giving someone new experiences, confidence, safety, love and inspiration.
I used to question if I was actually making a worthwhile difference but the last moments of my placement allowed me to see I definitely did and that difference is ongoing.
I was fortunate enough to visit my placement a year later and I can honestly say this experience is truly magical. It is so clear not only did I touch a number of hearts but my heart was touched too. The lessons I learnt from Fiji make me who I am today and I hope to never forget what makes Fiji so special. I will never forget one of my students thanking me for all I had done as we cried ourselves to sleep on my last sleepover in the village or the look on the faces of the people I surprised when I returned to Fiji – isa noqu Nailuva.
I am now a primary school teacher in the heart of London who is extremely thankful for the opportunity that Lattitude provided.
Muriel Thompson (Miss Taz)