Bula. To you, that is just four random letters in a random order. To me, that is a phrase that brings to life an abundance of smiling faces, echoes of contagiously uplifting laughter, and a genuine feel for true love and care for who you really are. It’s a massive sea change from the obscuring makeup of profession, class, colour, and history that commonly define and become us. On July 7, I, alongside a group of 25 volunteers, walked into the village of Delailasakau in the province of Naitasiri in Fiji: a name and place that had little meaning to me and solely connotated a mix of apprehension and excitement. By the time I left on July 31, Delailasakau village was left as a second home and oasis of calm that brought and will continue to bring such colour and euphoria to my life, shaping me as an individual both skilfully and emotionally.
Over the course of a three-week period, we engaged daily in two-hour-long morning workshops focusing on six key grassroots topics: mental health, public health, sport development, business, the environment, and leadership. In each session, volunteers established a plethora of techniques and ideas to provide the most effective and informative sessions to accurately achieve the mission of Think Pacific and the Fijian government. Think Pacific’s Youth Empowerment Sustainable Development Programme aims to achieve the Fijian National Development Plan to have the maximum impact on incoming generations of Fijians, discussing topics that align with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
As a team of varied skills and backgrounds, we spent time inside and outside workshops solidifying the socio-economic development vision of Fiji’s 20-year estimated plan. From the first workshop focusing on sports development, where we were faced with a sea of apprehensive and timid Fijian youth matched with the anticipation of the volunteer group, we established a common ground. Together, bound by an untarnished purity of happiness and willingness to try, we created bonds that allowed us to flourish in our efforts. Initiatives to start up a village pharmacy and provide substantial first aid training courses to businesses, entailing weekly transportation of commerce to and from Suva, were meticulously restructured, coordinated, and encouraged throughout our time on the project.
This discipline of patterned movement resonated with me and made me feel as if we were a unit; not Fijians and volunteers, men and women, first worlds and villagers, but simply friends and family
After having our morning sessions, the project included a series of afternoon culture courses over the course of the three weeks. Building on friendships established in the discussion groups and free time, an abundance of laughter in an entirely judgement-free space was shared through communal practices of the Fijian meke and confident attempts to weave mats or cook as quickly and effectively as the talented Fijian ladies of Delailasakau. I particularly enjoyed the exchanging of glances during the Meke: a traditional style of dance commonly telling a story of Fijian tribal history, as we repeated sequences of moves comfortingly in sync. As a black belt in the martial art of Taekwondo, this discipline of patterned movement resonated with me and made me feel as if we were a unit: not Fijians and volunteers, men and women, first worlds and villagers, but simply friends and family. To open yourself up to a culture completely foreign to your own alone is a token of acceptance, appreciation, and fascination. Each culture course reinforced to me that differences ironically bring us together, whilst also educating and enlightening us.
Specifically for our project, there was a death in the community, which meant that dancing, singing, and loud noise or play weren’t allowed after our first week there until the funeral date, which was after we left. Although this was unfortunate in respect to both the circumstances but also the effects it had, I found that it made certain aspects of the project unique and rewarding. Not only did it allow for more in-depth discussion with individuals and a growth within each other’s presence, but also for weekly activities such as Ladies Zumba on a Friday – it made that memory so vivid and special. All of the women in one place, doing an activity that has no role nor responsibility and is only dedicated to them is a subtly powerful moment I will never forget. Gender roles in Fiji are still very much present and distinct, sometimes favouring harmony in the community and at other times creating a stifled and suppressed social and economic environment for women. For all women, regardless of age, role in the family, view, or colour, the 40 minutes of Zumba dances was a time for everyone to effortlessly engage in the activity and truly enjoy themselves.
Everyone was content in the present and that is a sensation that is gradually dying out in our Western world, with constant updates on what others are doing around us and unshakeable pressures to be out with friends or topping up tans abroad
Outside of set culture courses and seminars, a good amount of time was spent socialising with the Fijian community and our families. Hours were spent telling stories, known as “talanoa” in Fijian culture. The beauty of village life was that there was no sense of hurry, urgency to do anything, or desire to be elsewhere. Everyone was content in the present, and that is a sensation that is gradually dying out in our Western world, with constant updates on what others are doing around us and unshakeable pressures to be out with friends or topping up tans abroad. When you are comfortable in the present moment without any pressure nor worry, you are truly able to enjoy and soak up whatever it is that you are doing. Watching the pure delight that the children had when we went to the river to swim with them and their faces of exhilaration when we splashed and jumped and painted on our faces with a paste made from the rocks. The ability to do something over and over again but have the same excitement and glee each time you do it is something I envied about the Fijian lifestyle.
A memory that resonates with me fondly is the first time I ever heard the Fijians sing in Sunday mass – the sound surges through you as the swarms of harmony and passion are embraced and enforced. Simple humming of a tune to the kids would excite them all to break out into song, specifically Calm Down by Rema and People by Libianca. My favourite was by far the Taura, the gospel song that would be sung daily, possibly hourly. Each child and adult could flawlessly recall the lyrics and their harmonic role, giving equal amounts of incredible passion. You can’t find those remixes or versions on Spotify. That was what was so special: nothing in the village could be emulated nor monetised. After leaving Delailasakau it felt incredibly important to me to leave something behind whilst also sharing the divinity of the culture and people at home, so I decided to fundraise for a piano, raising a total of £750.
A month on, I have maintained my zeal and captivation for the village lifestyle I experienced, and I maintain contact with my newfound family and friends in Delailasakau. Not only does that connection make me feel accepted, but it puts me at ease because regardless of whatever happens next in my future, the memory and connection to Delailasakau is something that can never leave me. I hope everyone capitalises on this experience of a lifetime and finds their Narnia in a Fijian village.