Alumni Spotlight: Leonard Kolstad

Why did you decide to volunteer with GVI in Fiji?

Leonard: I was not satisfied with my job back at home and was eager for a career change. I wanted to pursue a career in sustainable development and I thought that a volunteer trip in this arena would be a great way to fulfill this newfound ambition. I came across the GVI website online and was interested in several of the programs the organization offered. However, the expedition to Fiji seemed to be an especially great fit for my interests. I was intrigued by the prospects of working on both a water and an education project and it did not take me a long time to commit to the project. I was also looking forward to some great weather!

GVI Volunteers in Fiji

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Leonard: During the week, we worked hard, whether at Ratu Meli Memorial School or in the villages installing water tanks. The education project was a great experience. I was placed in fourth grade and was responsible for teaching 17 students Math, English, Science, and Social Studies. I tried to give the students as much exposure as possible to the world outside of Fiji. We also took breaks from the traditional subjects to do arts and crafts, as well as play sports. The kids love sports. They are so energetic and fun to be around, even if they are difficult to manage at times. The students lack discipline in the classroom and that is one of the challenges that I tried to embrace as a volunteer. The construction project involved loading and unloading the boat with supplies each day, as we generally travelled off-island to conduct our work. Volunteers were responsible for installing or repairing guttering on village homes and churches, building cement bases for the water tanks, and then connecting the tanks to the guttering via downpipe. It could be very challenging work in the heat of the day. Water and breaks in the shade are definitely necessary! The construction project was incredibly rewarding, as it played an enormous role in providing drinking water security to the villages.

Volunteers helping with community development in Fiji

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

Leonard: The impact of the GVI Fiji expedition on my future is difficult to overstate. It was the beginning of what I hope to be a lifelong career in sustainable development. The recognition of the influence this project had on the local villagers further enhanced my interest in humanitarian and development projects, especially with regards to the developing world. In addition, I believe this experience played a large role in me being accepted to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a Master’s degree in Sustainability. I will never forget my time in Fiji with GVI. It was a turning point in my life both personally and professionally.