Our First Two Weeks Volunteering In Fiji!

 

Bula Vinaka!

Vinaka for the childrens vitamins & bandaids!

Vinaka for the childrens vitamins & bandaids!

So much has happened and I find myself frozen, I can‘t possibly share all we’ve done, but I desperately want to. Though after two weeks in Fiji it feels great visiting my old trusty keys, tapping away experiences and memories. What to share, where do I start…

Mana collecting coconuts to make "Lolo" (coconut cream) for dinner. It's SO tasy!

Mana collecting coconuts to make “Lolo” (coconut cream) for dinner. It’s SO tasy!

I search my head for the answer, but it’s my gut that feels compelled to yet again say, vinaka vakalevu (thank you very much)!! Jared and I have had the honor of bringing over 150 pounds of donated items with us to Fiji. That may sound overly gracious, but it’s true. Each time I lifted a bag it was a reminder of all you have done to help us. Those that donated your time, energy & items , I thought of you along with those that donated money to help us get here, there are no words. So, all I can say is thank you. It’s because of you all that we have been able to bring bag after bag, giving to schools, villages, homes and hands. For everyone of you that gave (and there are A LOT), I have received a smile of gratitude and joy in return in which I‘m sending your way.

With a full heart and overflowing hands we have been able to donate items to two preschools, one secondary school, six villages, and countless individuals. From a school that had stubs for crayons and went wild over colored construction paper to another teacher whose eyes welled up over a donated children’s

Toothbrushes!!

Toothbrushes!!

trampoline, as it was the schools first piece of play equipment, and finally giving a woman prenatal vitamins that were unavailable at the local clinic, making a big difference for both momma and baby.

We’ve laughed and cried, and been wowed at the generosity shown to us. Fijians are gracious hosts, always feeding you first, making sure you have the best part of everything in front of you. It’s a game of gratitude in the truest form. We have come to give our time, our knowledge and joy among everything else, yet a village that may not have much prepares a meal of Fijian flavors, taking from themselves to show their gratitude when the very reason we came was to give to them. It’s a circle of Vinaka and so we have learned to embrace it, eat our ration when they happily say “Kana Vakalevu” (eat a lot!) and walk away satisfied in both belly and heart.

Boo (green coconut) for everyone!

Boo (green coconut) for everyone!

Although this may seem wonderful enough it is the family dynamic that leaves us in awe. Jared and I constantly make eye contact, smiling at the beauty that makes up a Fijian family. We were warmly welcomed back into the home that hosted our first traditional Fijian meal almost four years ago. Lily, whom I like to call the matriarch of the family has made us feel at home and rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t say, “this is your Fijian family and your Fijian home”. We share this home with fifteen members of our Fijian family, though a Sunday meal will host close to twenty, and that’s normal family life here in Fiji. Everybody shares the cooking, cleaning and chores, and I find myself floored at how efficient and organized everyone is, especially with only one bathroom and kitchen! Apart from the village rooster that Jared swears he’ll cook up for breakfast each morning (due to the early, as in 2:00am wake up calls) the noise is adored. Kids playing and laughing, kava being pounded, coconut being scraped, food sizzling, native tongue rolling effortlessly from every mouth. For a woman in which family is most important and loves a full house, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be!

Teaching Martial Arts in Taci Levu Village

Teaching Martial Arts in Taci Levu Village.

Witnessing Jared teach an impromptu martial arts class on a picturesque beach in a rural village was priceless. Many ask “what are you doing there”. Well, I’m teaching dance and exercise classes, Jared has worked on a farm, helped build a water filtration system for a nearby village and we both have taught in schools together. But, it’s not the planned activities that mean something, it’s the time in between, watching the children light up when they learn something new. It’s watching my husband make an entire school break out into laughter or making a connection with a stranger. It’s the unplanned moments, listening to elders speak about Fiji’s customs and the importance of preserving them, or the change that’s occurring. It’s learning and giving openly, just as the Fijians give to us. It’s watching an endless flow of love and affection exchanged and learning to slow down.

Our Fijian family (some of them).

Our Fijian family (some of them).

Jared and I came here hoping to make a difference, though it seems, yet again that is us who feel the change within. As I watch Jared fly away in the puddle hopper of a plane I find myself wanting to understand the people of Fiji on a deeper level. What are their greatest needs, what is it that I can offer that will actually leave a lasting and positive impact? In the next week, as I welcome Mom, I’ll explore this further. For now, I’ll listen to all thestories being shared about Jared, not one without laughter or excitement of some kind. Watching someone you love with all you’ve got, dive into a family as if it were his own, embrace the culture and the customers, put himself out there, laugh at himself when it’s needed or give knowledge when it’s asked for. A year ago we set out on a journey to raise what felt like a monster of money in order to be here and contrary to what many may think, this was Jared’s dream. It was his commitment that made this happen. Thank you to all and especially to my husband for creating an experience and memories that have forever changed us.

Jared and the kiddos, one of our sweetest Fijian memories.

Jared and the kiddos, one of our sweetest Fijian memories.

Vinaka Vakalevu!

Jasmine, Jared & the JACARA Team

To make a greater difference; JACARA will donate 10% of ALL profits earned to the Naqaqa Giving Foundation!