Habitat for Humanity Fiji
With thanks to student reporter, Simon Dennis
On a bitter Sunday morning during our July holidays, fifteen students arrived at Auckland International Airport to set out on a life-changing experience. We had a goal – to build, to the best of our ability and with time allowing, a Habitat home in Fiji for somebody less fortunate than ourselves to live in. Everyone who was on that building site when we hammered home the last nail will agree, we got far more out of the experience than we ever could have imagined. A week in Fiji was not a holiday, but it enriched our lives.
Our group was friendly and easy to get to know, which made the first travelling day all the more enjoyable but by the second day, it was a different story. We suddenly understood what we had signed up for; a hard week’s labour! The reality of what we were about to undertake only really hit us when we arrived in the village, however, not one of us will ever regret taking on this project, such were the personal rewards.
We all have an image of Fiji as the perfect holiday destination for tourists, but the poverty that we saw in village life in Fiji was so vastly different to life in New Zealand that we could hardly believe it. We were staying all together in the local town hall’s ‘conference room’ all sleeping side by side marae-style but it was still much better accommodation than that of the villagers.
The village of ‘Koroipita-2’ is a long running Habitat for Humanity project that is undertaking to build at least 100 new houses to accommodate over 200 of Fiji’s lowest income families. The project not only gives them homes but also seeks to create a holistic and sustainable community, providing its residents with assistance in many other ways to improve their lives including education, health, employment, subsistence farming and conflict resolution.
This was where we worked for a full week. Early morning starts and surprisingly early evening bedtimes were on the cards as we all worked incredibly hard at our respective jobs – painting, roofing, strapping, and flooring were all big tasks – and we pulled together to get it as complete as possible in our week’s stay.
The evenings in the village were the most enjoyable for all, including our village hosts. Whenever we wanted to have some fun, there was always overwhelming participation. Children from the village were also never far away, and we spent most of our free time running around and making fools of ourselves while the kids ganged up on us. We could all agree after our week that they were the happiest people we had ever seen, and they had so little themselves. Nobody was ever unhappy, all of the children smiled and laughed constantly, and the village pulled together as a proper village; supporting each other.
Vinaka vaka levuI think that we were all surprised as to how much work we managed to get done. We were pretty strict on each other, not allowing much slacking off and only going for breaks when we needed them, and this may have been the secret to our success. By the end of the week in Koroipita-2, we had successfully completed the living quarters of not one, but two houses for less-fortunate Fijian families. This was an incredible feat for eighteen people, let alone including fifteen schoolchildren who had never really hammered in a nail. The worst part of the trip was not leaving Fiji, but leaving the village, with all of the loving faces of the children and the appreciative tears and smiles from the adults. The experience was brutal and tough on our bodies, but even more so on our emotions, and the following experience of 3 days in a resort was no match for the love that we felt from the village. This was not just a co-curricular activity; this was a life changing and eye-opening experience that the entire team, will never forget.