One of the most common questions travelers to Fiji ask me is, ‘what can I take or do to help people in Fiji?’ Often this is from parents who want to have their children engage with local children and gain an understanding of the Fijian schooling system. Many individuals just want a chance to experience life in Fiji and develop an appreciation for the issues faced by citizens daily. Here are some suggestions for individuals or families looking to become involved in communities around the country during their stay.
Check with Your Hotel
Many hotels have ongoing community projects with local villages. In most cases, hotel staff are residents of nearby visits and visits to the community, or schools can easily be arranged directly through the hotel. Those who have opted to try this have had the best results when setting up the visit once they have arrived in the country. In this way, a community visit can be scheduled on a day where other plans get cancelled due to poor weather or other unforeseen circumstances. Some hotels engage in educational projects, environmental ones or health-related projects, all based on the location of the community and the most urgent needs.
A visit to the local library will give you a good sense of the importance placed on education and learning in Fiji. While many libraries are inadequately resourced, they are brimming with vibrant hope. There are over 900 libraries in Fiji. I suggest libraries because you (and your family) might have the opportunity to engage in afterschool or holiday programs (where they exist). There is also scope to offer your story reading services or lead a craft or musical activity. Libraries are also a good place to donate. Many libraries use the donations to give children, who otherwise cannot afford the minimal membership fees, the chance to become members.
If you are interested in donating books I would consider newer titles. Browse through the shelves of many of these libraries and you will notice the absence of the current reference books, the latest pop culture titles, or new titles in general. Too often it is ex-library books from the developed world that gets sent to developing countries. While books of any nature are an asset, it is rather unfortunate for children, and adults for that matter, to miss the Harry Potter series for instance!
Hand Over Your Cash – In-Flight
If you fly Fiji Airways this is an option available to you. Fiji Airways In-flight Cash for Kids program was developed by the airlines cabin crew and helps fund the Fiji Airways charity, Wings of Hope. The program collects unused foreign coins (or notes) from on-board guests which become part of the funding for Wings of Hope. Since becoming aware of the program I have collected foreign currency from all our travels that seem to find themselves all over our home and put them in our travel cases, ready to hand over to the cabin crew. A few Wings of Hope projects have included buses for special education, water sanitation in schools and scholarships. If you do have your currency ready but miss the collection, or do not hear the announcement for it, simply hand it over to a crew member.
Ask and Listen
I find it hardest to calm the excitement and good intentions of visitors who want to fix everything. One of the best things you can do in a new country, and to truly understand the developmental issues is to talk to the locals. Ask them questions, listen to their stories – and truly listen. Local communities often have traditional ways of addressing problems and utilizing this local knowledge will help create sustainable solutions.
Is engaging with local communities important to you when you travel?