I stepped down from my 8th floor room at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort on Fiji’s Coral Coast, wound my way down the manicured paths by little running creeks, and turned right at the pool into the buffet restaurant where freshly squeezed pineapple and ginger juice and a bacon butty set me up for the day’s activities.
Then while the rest of the families and friends all holidaying at this resort hidden an hour and a half from Nadi Airport hit the lagoon or one of the many pools, water sports or even the spa, I joined a group of fellow journalists and headed off to Conua District School where Outrigger is building them a new hall.
The resort has been up to these activities for years and one Saturday each month a different department heads out to spend the day building, painting, digging or whatever is required in various local villages. But guests began asking if they could come too, so now on Tuesdays and Thursdays you can book a day out to ply your trade – or if you don’t have a trade, just pick up a paint brush or wheel cement to the correct location!
It was Saturday and I thought that not many kids would be about, but many of them live on or near the school grounds and when they got word that we were coming (and we’d brought gifts of books, pens and stickers) they came from far and wide.
Pretty soon they were playing a game of Fijian tag (called viri) where the one who tags the runner suddenly becomes pursued. You can see where they get their Rugby 7s ducking and diving skills from! Girls and boys alike running themselves ragged on the school field while were in the new building painting timber that will line the eaves.
Since our Outrigger host, Donna, was here in December with another group helping dig the foundation trenches, the concrete floor is laid, the brick walls are up, the roof is almost finished and window frames were nailed together upon which we were to try our skills with paint brushes and turn them white.
After we’d put in a couple of hours with surprisingly few paint splotches on our attire, the teacher came over to show us around his little village school. Shouts of bula (which means life, so is sometimes said gently like a greeting and sometimes shouted from the rooftops) ricocheted around us as the kids happily posed for pics and we doled out gifts.
They sang us a song then ran off to chase each other while the men in the village had prepared a kava ceremony to thank us for our visit and help.
We took off our shoes and sat on a large mat they had laid out in the old school hall and were honoured by the local elders.
Kava is a tongue-numbing drink made from the root of the kava plant which is washed then ground into a powder, put into a piece of cloth and water is squeezed through it in the kava bowl until you are left with a grey liquid. But that’s only part of the ceremony.
It used to be solely the domain of the men, and before them, just the chief. Now visitors can also partake as they teach us the protocols of one clap before the coconut shell bowl is presented to you, you take it with one hand, drink it down without stopping, give the cup back to the person who brought it to you, and clap twice. Two slow, hollow claps. The kind that my dad and his mates do when watching test cricket.
We left the village and went to a lookout down the Sigatoka River that was once a Tongan fort. The resort had prepared packed lunches for all of us so we sat overlooking the river below and tucked into bread rolls, fruit, cake a chocolate bar – deciding that we could give up the cake and chocolate for the next school, as we were about to have a bonus school visit with Fijian rugby hero Kini Sarai, Outrigger’s activities manager and today our guide, but we’d given all our loot away.
After a quick spin through Sigatoka town to wander through the markets and have a look around, we drove past the resort this time and waaay into the hills to visit Koroinasau Primary School which has 32 boarders. The kids come by horseback (mainly) on Sundays and a local parent also comes to cook for the 87 students and 4 teachers on a weekly rostered basis.
Outrigger’s activities department were painting the corrugated iron roofs of the buildings and the students decided to perform a concert for us under the proud gaze of the principal. It was loud, energetic and fun! So after dancing in a congo line and listening to their farewell song, we bade our own farewells and made it back to the resort where families swam and sun bathed, and it felt good to have done a little bit to help.
Let the resort staff know when you check in if you’d like to be involved at least 24 hours before. You will be hosted by a resort staff member.
Cost: $100FJ ($70NZ) per adult / $60FJ per child aged 5-15. About 30% of this covers your expenses for the day and 70% goes into the project to cover materials, etc.
What to bring: hat, covered shoes, sunscreen, gifts for the school kids if you’d like (things like pens, books, stickers, balls…) The resort provides lunch and water.