In the summer of 2011, I spent ten days in a village that most have never heard of, in the midst of a culture that the world has overlooked. This village is known as Nasivikoso and is located in the highlands of the island Vitu Levu of The Fiji Islands. How I ended up there isn't terribly interesting. I had known for a few years that I wanted to travel abroad and not only learn about a new culture, but make a difference there, as well. When I searched for teen mission trips, I stumbled upon an organization called Rustic Pathways. Knowing next to nothing about it, the place I was going or the people I would meet, I headed off on the greatest adventure of my life.
The plane landed in Nadi, Fiji at 5:00 a.m. the next day and despite our drowsiness, I disembarked the plane along with my new group of friends. (Now I need you to realize that when I left my home in Colorado, no one that I knew went with me. I met every single person there.) We spent our first day at the beach and in the town, simply going along with what we were told to do. After a few hours, we hopped aboard what we came to know as the “carrier”- a truck with two benches and a roof made out of a tarp- and headed up to our new home.
The first day was scary. I met so many people and heard so many new names that I already missed my home. Because of this, I was unprepared for what came next.
As we walked into the village for the first time, we arrived as the kindergarteners were leaving school. They saw us and came running up the muddy dirt road, yelling with joy and throwing their arms around us. Two little girls whom I had never seen before begged me to pick them up and carry them. I did. This was the moment that all of my fear vanished. These little girls, playing with my vavalongi (foreign) hair and tugging on my shirt, made me realize that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I then met my new family. My tutua (sister), my nene (mother) and my momo (father) all greeted me with the biggest hugs I have ever received. They had no reason to love me. They didn’t even know me, but they loved me anyway.
Something important to realize about The Fiji Islands is that richer the people on the beaches are, the poorer the people in the highlands are, and the people in Nasivikoso live deep in the highlands. In this village there is no electricity. No running water. No phone service. The one thing that there is an abundance of is love.
My new friends and I spent the next nine days doing everything we possibly could to help the people of this village. We started out in the kindergarten, the only school in this village. One room served as a classroom while the other was being renovated to be a home for the teacher. We worked diligently to make this school as place where the children would want to spend their days, although I had never met children who wanted to get an education more than these kids.
One of our days was dedicated to walking to the next village over, through a river and down muddy paths, to the elementary school where students live for a week at a time. I personally taught in the first and second grade classrooms, while the other classes were taught by different kids in my group. These children amazed me. Even with the tiny amount of supplies they had, they were so smart. I fell in love with a little boy name Inia, a second grader who spent every minute of that day by my side. I could have stayed with those kids forever and have been completely happy.
We returned to the village that night, however, and I began learning about the amazing Fijian culture. My best friend there, Ravo, answered every question I asked and taught me everything I wanted to know about their life. We wore sulus (skirts) every day to cover our knees. We never wore hats or sunglasses in the village and we drank kava every night. I wanted to understand everything, and Ravo taught me.
Leaving my new life and new family was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The people of this village become your family and before you know it, you feel as if you’ve been there your whole life. I returned home with a better understanding of life and what it means to love.