Erin Sterk - General Care Projects in Fiji
I am 21 years old and a full time student at Michigan State University in the United States. I had never traveled abroad before, but this summer I decided I wanted to do a volunteer trip abroad.
My best friend had volunteered through Projects Abroad the summer before and said that her experience was amazing. I went to the Projects Abroad website and began communicating with a staff member. She was very supportive in my desire to volunteer abroad. She talked through the disadvantages and advantages to all the different places I was interested in. She was very detailed and honest about what to expect.
After talking with her many times I decided on volunteering in Fiji, the main reason being the higher level of safety and that the majority of the population speaks English. After deciding where I wanted to go and that I wanted to do something in the care and teaching field I submitted my application.
From the time I submitted my application I received weekly emails keeping me up to date with what needed to be done before my arrival.
Arriving in Fiji and Placement
Upon my arrival in Fiji I was met at the airport by a Projects Abroad staff member who took me and introduced me to my host family and oriented me to the town I was living in. The following day the same staff member took me to my placement at the school and helped me determine my schedule and what I would be doing at the school.
I had the opportunity to work at a school for special needs students for the month I was there. It was the greatest blessing of the entire trip. The students have so little and the teachers are spread so thin throughout the school and so they appreciated anything we did.
I taught health sciences and physical education for all the classes in the school. It was so much fun teaching the kid’s new sports and different games they had never played before. I taught them how to play basketball and they absolutely loved it! I am sure they are still playing it now.
The teachers were all very welcoming and I became quick friends with all of them, most of them I am still in communication with. The school put a large emphasis on incorporating things other than just lessons. So we would take the kids swimming or celebrate different festivals.
I was lucky enough to be there at the end of the Ramadan festival and was able to celebrate Eid with the students at the school. Whether the students were religious or not was not an issue, everybody in the school celebrated Eid with a big festival and traditional feast. It was a lot of fun and a great experience to be involved in a different culture.
On my last day at the school the students put on a big surprise party for me and we had snacks and dancing and other games. It was so amazing to see how happy the students can be despite having so little.
My Host Family
One of the greatest experiences of my trip was living with my host family. I had a host mother, father, and younger brother. They were so caring and compassionate, I felt right at home. They cared for me as my own family would and it made it very easy while trying to get accustomed to the area.
They would teach me different things about the culture and give me advice on what I should do while in Fiji. My host mom was also an amazing cook! We had a different meal every day and it was always fresh traditional Fijian food. I loved it! They always made sure we had enough to eat and enough bottled water to drink.
My younger host brother was 12 years old and was so much fun! He loved playing games with me or walking with me to the market. He had so many stories to tell me, it gave me a great appreciation for what it is like to grow up in Fiji. I still talk to my host family through mail and the internet. I miss them so much and I can’t wait to go back and visit them!
Projects Abroad Support
Something I found very reassuring was the support I received from the staff. The Projects Abroad office was a 10 minute walk from my house and I could go there anytime from 8am-5pm to talk with the staff members, use the internet, or meet other volunteers.
The staff members also gave me all of their own personal cell numbers and assured me to call at any time I needed something. I never had any problem getting a hold of someone to help me figure out a problem.
The staff members also put on a workshop in the afternoon once a week at the office for all the volunteers to come and learn about some useful things to use in the volunteer placements. They also organized a social every week for all the volunteers to go out to dinner together. This was a great way to meet everybody!
If you didn’t want to participate and get involved you didn’t have to, it was not required, but I would definitely recommend it. I loved meeting such a diverse group of people from all over the world.
Overall the trip was amazing for me. Even though I was there to volunteer and help others, I found it an incredible personal experience. I had a lot of time to grow and learn as an individual. The people I met and the friendships I made will last a lifetime and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.