Bula (Hello in Fijian) to all our friends and families back in America!
GCP Fiji has been up to a lot since Taylor’s last post. We have spent the past 2 days on the island of Kioa staying with our host families. The community on the island could not have been more welcoming, and we all had a wonderful learning experience being immersed in the Tuvaluan culture.
Catherine and myself stayed with Maeli and Lopa. Maeli is a member of the Council and is in charge of transportation. Lopa, Maeli’s wife, is in charge of running the household, managing their 8 children, and makes handicrafts. Handicrafts are fans, baskets, jewelry, mats and other useful items that are made by hand from materials available on the island. Many of Maeli and Lopa’s children are grown and married or are away working. However, their youngest daughter Vanessa is still at home. She is five, in kindergarten, and loves to play peek-a-boo and tag. At first she was shy around us, but quickly warmed up. It touched my heart when, on Sunday evening following church, she came up to me, took my hand silently, and started leading me down the path back towards home.
The church service was filled with beautiful singing and Maeli’s daughter Rose sang in the choir. She was home from secondary school for the weekend and headed back following the service as did Tech, one of their sons, who works on a neighboring island during the week.
Monday started with breakfast with our families. My favorites were the new fruits we got to try….mangosteen, passion fruit, and miniature bananas called ladyfingers. Following breakfast we attended the morning Council meeting where we were officially welcomed and attended a Kava ceremony. During the Council meeting Mr Fiafia, a village elder, led a devotional where the theme was graciousness. He spoke of love for each other and how we are all connected by the common thread of humanity. The entire village displayed this kindness and generosity towards us and we are all extremely grateful.
As the temperature continued to rise on Monday we took the opportunity to cool off in the sea and all went snorkeling. We were able to see blue starfish, coral, huge clams, and many types of fish. The water is amazingly clear and a diver’s dream. Upon returning to the shore, Tim informed us that a small shark had been hanging out on the reef just checking us out. Surprisingly, and thankfully, none of us had noticed or many of us (especially me) would have high-tailed it out of there.
In the afternoon, we headed over to the primary school to help teach the children’s gym class. Classes 1 through 8 participated (which is equivalent to our first through 8th grades). They were all dressed in gym uniforms and belonged to a specific “house.” The “houses” were broken down by color….blue, green, yellow, and red. The student’s presented us with “fou” which is a garland of flowers that is placed on the head and is a traditional way to show respect and welcome. We then headed outside to warm up, play games and get to know the children. Many of the students asked about what school was like in America and had questions about sports. They were amazed when we started talking about snow as none of them have ever seen it outside of a movie. We were all impressed by how respectful the students were and how they thanked each of their teacher’s at the end of the day during afternoon assembly. The head of school impressed on the student’s how fortunate they were to have visitor’s to learn from and that they could reach their goals if they “Never get tired of studying.”
Monday night was celebration time. The entire village assembled for a fatale, which is a traditional Tuvaluan celebration and dance. Not only did the villagers perform, but we also joined in and all participated in the dancing.
On Tuesday morning, it was time to pack up and say “Tofa” (good-bye in Tuvaluan). Before departing we snuck in a little more swimming and hiking before traveling by boat, bus, and then plane on our way to Suva.
As we traveled to the Capital of Fiji we had time to reflect on our experiences while staying on the island. We all felt that the Tuvaluan people and snorkeling stood out as some of the highlights of the village experience. The most difficult parts included the extreme heat, sweating, and food. I don’t think any of us fully believed Tim when he said he had not stopped sweating since coming to the island. However, we now all are believers. Also, the food put many of us outside of our comfort zones, as it was unique and strange to us. However, as one of our group members, Ashley, stated “There is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” That saying is quickly becoming the motto of the trip as everyone is trying new things and learning much about themselves, and each other, in the process.
We have now been in Suva for one day and will spend the next 2 days here as well. Today, we had the opportunity to visit FNU, Fiji National University. Coming from the pharmacy program at SU, Shawn and myself were escorted by Praveen who is one of only six, pharmacy faculty at the school. He reviewed with us the curriculum and admissions requirements for their students. We also had the opportunity to tour several classrooms and labs. The 3rdyear pharmacy students had just completed a compounding exercise where they made ciprofloxacin suspensions. They were required to hand-write the labels as well as record a step-by-step account of how to make the product, discuss all counseling points they would provide the patient with and include a list of all the questions they should ask the patient prior to dispensing. The rest of the group headed out to see areas of FNU that pertained to their area of study.
Following the tour, we met up with David, Catherine, and Jenna who are also health professions majors and toured the local hospital. I am happy to report that the coldest place I have found so far in Fiji is in the pharmacy! In order to keep the medications intact and stable they must run the AC constantly. We also were able to see the inpatient wards, children’s hospital and physiotherapy wing. We ended the day by traveling to the nursing school. Here they greeted us warmly and entertained us with singing and dancing (video clip posted on Facebook).
Many more exciting things are yet to come for GCP Fiji!
Vinaka! (Thanks in Fijian)