Although I have told countless people throughout the summer of my Peace Corps assignment in Fiji, it has yet to seem real. There are many details I haven’t had the time to think through, and I doubt the fact that I am moving for the next 27 months will hit me until I step off the plane in Fiji. Even as I begin to pack and say my goodbyes to my family and friends, the phrases I have repeated numerous times to family, friends, and Chimney Corners guests feel like words with no meaning behind them… But yes, I really depart for Fiji in less than one week where I will be working as a community health empowerment facilitator until December of 2016!! I am beyond excited to take on this new challenge and adventure!
Upon arriving in Los Angeles on Monday September 1st, I will meet the other 40 volunteers who I will be serving with in Fiji. We will have a short staging event and the opportunity to get to know the Peace Corps staff. On the night of the 2nd, we will all board a plane together and fly directly from LA to Nadi, Fiji where we will take a bus to Suva, the capital of Fiji. I will be living with a host family for the next 10 weeks during the training process. From my understanding, this training process isn’t extremely glorious. It will consist of extensive language instruction, and long hours of skills and cultural training. During this time, Peace Corps will arrange all of our transpiration, meals, etc.. As a well experienced traveler, and someone who loves exploring new areas and getting to know the local people on my own, I know I will struggle with this training as we will be herded around and not given much if any free time. However, it is important to remember that the Peace Corps has been doing this for 50 +years, so they must know the most effective way to train their volunteers, and I will have plenty of time to do my own exploring after completion of this training period.
After completing the 10 week training, I will be placed in my individual assignment for the next 2 years. My assignment will largely determine my living situation (whether or not I have another Peace Corps roommate), if I live inland or on the coast, what my everyday work will look like, whether I live in a rural village or in a larger town, my internet access, and the amenities I have access too. Clearly there are many unknowns at this point-which makes packing particularly challenging!
From Frankfort to Fiji. Many many people have asked me.. “Why Fiji? What issues could such a beautiful island county possibly have?” Like many other countries in the South Pacific, the local people of Fiji struggle with a variety of non-communicable diseases. Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and HIV/AIDS have recently become devastating in Fiji. In 2008, it was proclaimed that 80% of deaths a year in Fiji were attributed to poor health choices, diet, and lack of education in these areas. In addition, HIV/AIDS was declared an epidemic in 2006. So, in 2012, the government of Fiji asked that all Peace Corps volunteers to switch to work in partnership with the ministry of health in order to focus specifically on the health sector. When looked at on the surface, Fiji appears to be this amazingly beautiful place where the more fortunate are able to vacation, however there are clearly deeper issues with health, poverty, and education. In a way, these circumstances are similar to those of Benzie County where many of the wealthy summer people have no idea what truly goes on below the surface of this county and the poverty that prevails. I hope with this insight I will be able to address the complexity of some of the local issues in Fiji.
Here are some fun facts about Fiji:
- The three national languages are English, Fijian, and Hindi
- 332 islands make up the country!
- Only about 1/3 of the islands are populated
- Fiji was colonized by Great Britian and after several coups gained independence in 1870 and became a republic in 1987.
- Suva is the capital and largest city of Fiji
- Rugby is the most popular sport in Fiji
- The largest religion of Fiji is methodist
- MORE TO COME!
I am most looking forward to meeting new people, getting to know a new culture, use my new scuba certification, and get hands on experience in the public health field. I couldn’t have asked for a better placement. This program is exactly what I hope to do for the rest of my life as I wrote my senior honors thesis at the U of M on adolescent behavior and HIV/AIDS, took a variety of nutrition classes, and hope to receive my Master in Public Health with a global focus upon completing my Peace Corps assignment. Also, I am thrilled to be in a warm weather climate and so close to water!
I am most nervous about the language barrier (especially in smaller villages where little to no english will be spoken), and being gone for 27 months! The time commitment is huge. I know it will go fast and I will love it, but there are very special people in my life who will be 12,000 km away and 17 hours behind! I hope some of you all are able to come visit me!!
Thank you all for your love and support throughout my life! I really appreciate all the kinda wishes and luck you have sent me as I embark on a life changing journey!