I have always wondered ….did we make a difference? When we take our New Zealand culture, and NZ DIY work ethic and skills into a remote village in the Pacific Islands and get involved in a building project. What happens after we have left and is it really worth the effort of fundraising, collecting equipment to take, seeking sponsorship and getting volunteers to fund their own travel costs, and organise all the hidden aspects of doing a project abroad..
For the last 6 years Devonport Rotary Club has sent teams of volunteers to a variety of locations in the outer islands of Fiji to work on projects. All have been education and/or water based with an emphasis on preschool /kindergarten levels. For the volunteers who take part it is a truly rewarding experience. The best way to describe it is to say “I have seen big men cry” The chance to step into another culture, eat different food, sing and laugh and play jokes on one another whilst doing the work at hand and that amazing chance to work with the local village people. To see the villagers arrive at the work site plates laden with their home cooked delicacies for our lunch. So different yet so “Fijian”
So does it work? This year after building a kindergarten at Vuna village on the island of Taveuni four of us returned to the wee coastal Lavena Village where we restored a dilapidated disused building 2 years ago to be used as the “Little Parrot Fish” preschool. We had painted it in these amazing bright colours, so cute, and with a cyclone proof roof that we had put on it the building was one of a few that that survived the cyclone that smashed the village last year without any damage. Well I reckon the drums had been beating as when we arrived in the village school committee was there to meet us and we kept hearing “the Rotary plasterers” are here. We wondered what on earth were they talking about. Then the penny dropped when they said “quick come look at our new school and our Rotary plastering”. Can you imagine the joy for us to learn that not only was the “little Parrot Fish” Kindy thriving with 17 students each day but even more importantly the very active school committee had applied to the government for a grant to build a school. Why? because each day their kids were walking 10kms to the nearest school and they had 100 school aged children.
We found that the Devonport Rotary project had been the catalyst. We had made a difference. By working with us the villagers became a gang of builders. In particular our plasterer Dave Milina taught the men how to solid plaster. Using sand from the estuary washing it clean, the mixing with cement and the spreading the Fijians quickly became “master plasterers” and this was the exterior finish they were able to put on their new 4 classroom school block and four new school houses. Real clever stuff and picture perfect.