Australians reacted immediately when we heard of Cyclone Winston’s devastation across Fiji in February.
Our island neighbour is a favourite holiday destination and its warm, generous people are beloved by Aussies.
The tourist industry got back on its feet pretty quickly, thank goodness. Many of us donated to the Fijian people, and tried to help after that terrible natural disaster.
But did you know that holidaymakers can help out, whilst meeting the locals and learning more about Fijian culture, at all times of the year.
I stayed at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort last year and hugely enjoyed a day as a volunteer on their Community Tourism Project.
Here’s my report and below it news of the Outrigger’s current project.
‘Grab your paintbrush and we’ll get started,’ says Kini.
Minutes later the slurp of paint being mixed and the slap of paintbrushes on wood is all you can hear.
This isn’t a watercolour painting holiday, instead it’s a new way to get involved in local communities when holidaying on Fiji’s Coral Coast.
School aged children can join their parents in this work.
And believe me, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort’s first community tourism project involves real work.
Today’s job is to paint window frames and ceiling slats. White paint is going on good style. Luckily, you don’t need much skill to paint, and we were told to wear old clothes.
Kini Saira, Outrigger’s head of Guest Activities, is our guide today. Kini’s an ex player for Fiji’s national rugby union squad and he’s a dab hand with a paintbrush too. But I’m doing my best to keep up with him.
Outrigger’s project is to build a large meeting hall (bure) for Conua School in the lush green Sigatoka Valley. Guests can join the hotel’s engineering team on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The cost charged to guests covers expenses and a contribution to the project expenses.
You can expect to work hard for a few hours.
Shortly the sound of paint slapping and slurping is interrupted by the cheerful shouts and laughter of local children.
These kids have such a lot of space around their school and they’re making the most of it. They race around playing tip and and they roll and romp around with gusto.
With heaps of space, a cloudless blue sky and deep green farm fields around the school, these Fijian kids are getting the best education in terms of healthy outdoors living.
Peter Hopgood, CEO of Outrigger, was at a function at this school one day and he noticed the small hall had holes in the ceiling and corrugated iron roof. This wouldn’t have been too bad except for the rain pouring in.
So Peter decided to help. The Outrigger would build a new hall and the guests could help out too.
Now the lovely thing about painting is that you really see results fast. It’s satisfying to see the paint go on and make a piece of wood look like a proper window frame.
That’s sweet but even more satisfying is to just be there in this rural village in Fiji, half an hour along an unsealed road from the coast. To be doing something useful feels fantastic.
The Outrigger’s staff have been involved in community projects for a long time. Each department has its own project and hotel workers spend a day a month working on them.
The kitchen staff and chefs have been teaching school children to cook and running a local cooking competition. The activities staff have been painting another school.
When we lay down our paintbrushes, a kava ceremony is held with village members. The rituals are clearly explained but nothing can really prepare you for the peaty taste of the kava and the odd numbing sensation it leaves.
‘It’s an acquired taste,’ says Kini in a glorious understatement. ‘You can say what you like about kava. It’s still going to be Fiji’s national drink.’
The last stop of the day is Tavuni Hill Fort, a well preserved historic place where invading Tongan forces build a stronghold.
We see amazing sweeping vistas across the Sigatoka River. We also see the flat stone where enemies were clubbed to death. That’s a bit sobering.
The fort is up a steep but short walk from the car park and small museum. School aged kids would enjoy the walk around this site. And they’d shiver with delighted horror at the clubbing stone.
And we head home. To a glass of champagne and canapés provided by our butler back at the Outrigger.
This activity provides a terrific chance for kids to mix with their Fijian contemporaries. And if the kids stop working and play with their new friends instead, no-one would complain at all.
You can mix this trip in with lazing at the resort, an adventure trip, a cultural visit to the local church and market and then more splashing in the pool.
Blend together for a splendid feast of both relaxing holiday and some real travel insights too.
The meeting hall at Conua was opened late last year. The next project is to build a kindergarten for the younger children at Conua School.
Resort guests can join the work on the project each Tuesday and Thursday. The cost to guests is FJD$100 adults and FJD$60 children which includes lunch, refreshments and a visit to the historic Tavuni Hill Fort.
Keep up with the project via the Outrigger’s Facebook page here.
A bit of working for good on a holiday can be a fine thing.
And helping out the local Fijians is a pleasure.
More Fiji Family Holiday Posts here
I was a guest of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort last year – oh happy days!