The Intro to Community Service program was my third program that I had done with Rustic. And like my previous programs, it was an absolutely amazing experience like no other. I got to go step out of my comfort zone and go skydiving, I got to interact with the local community, and I got to have fun while doing service.
First, most of the Fiji groups stay in the Eco Lodge base house. I loved having not only my service group there, but also meeting all the other kids that were on a range of programs. On the first day we all went to the beach to get to know each other and it was like we were already best friends by the end of our time on the beach. There's a huge sense of community and camaraderie with every single person, wether it be a student or a program leader. I think that having people in a base house together, interacting with a bunch of different people, while still doing service with your primary group, is great and I got to be friend with so many people that way.
One thing that I loved was that all groups have a local Fijian person as one of the leaders. This gives you the opportunity to ask them questions and really dive deep into what life is like in Fiji. I honestly learned so much about the customs and different practices that Fiji has from my leader Villie. I also got to know the other local, Fijian program leaders really well, because all of the different programs that are at the base house becomes one big family and community. My Fijian program leader even wrote us a song at the end of our program! I was crying and I loved the song and it definitely came from the heart!
With all the service, you will absolutely be working with the community and kids. On the second day of service, we got to go to the Laloma house, a women's shelter, and cook a meal for the women and children there. We cooked the meal before going with Shilini, one of the base's chefs, so that we could spend as much time with the kids as possible. When we got there, all the kids ran up to us and immediately wanted us to pick them up and play. We all danced, played duck, duck, goose and had a great time before dinner. We then served them dinner, talked with the mothers about their life, served them ice cream, said our goodbyes, and then went back. I usually don't do service with kids when I'm in New York, so I really enjoyed grtting to play and dance with a bunch of kids.
If you like kids, then you'll love to hear that there's a day where my program got to teach a local kindergarten. We spent a long time working on our lesson plans and preparing to teach the kindergartens and then the day came and it was amazing. We worked one on one and with the whole class to teach them our lesson plans. After teaching, we got to play with them outside for recess and the moms even made us lunch. We spent a long time running around and playing with the kids. I loved that day, because teaching the kids and playing with them was so much fun.
Another example of Rustic really engaging the community is when we did service in the Bavu Village. This was personally my favorite day, because of how much my program interacted with the community. We first drove to the village with Rajesh, Shilini's husband and a local carpenter. When we got there, we immediately participated in a welcoming ceremony in our Sulus with the village chief and spokesperson. I've never seen a village chief before, so it was a very cool experience. After the ceremony, we went to work for the day. Throughout the day, we were never working by ourselves, because Rustic really believes in including the village in its service projects. One of the most memorable moments from that day was when I was shoveling cement into the mixer and I looked up and the village spokesperson was shoveling right next to me. We then got into a conversation about the banana tree that was a few feet away from us. I was in awe, because a person that is in such a high position is working right beside me and having a normal conversation.
After we were finished with our service we then got to do a Kid's Club with the children in Bavu. We got to play soccer, rugby (which I found out I'm really bad at), talk to them, sing songs from Moana, and overalls just have a great time. The kid's club sadly came to an end and we then concluded our welcoming ceremony. That day happened to be on of the other student's birthday, so during the last portion of the welcoming ceremony, the women in the village surprised him with a cake, tea, bread, crackers, and a bunch of treats. That's when I really understood how great of a connection Rustic had with the local villages that they work with.
There are so many more examples of the great interactions that Rustic has with the local community. I loved my experience in Fiji and now I see why so many people do a Rustic trip in Fiji. The people were so nice, the service was amazing, and I got to step out of my comfort zone.