Do Moments Become Memories While Volunteering in Fiji
Thwack. The sound of a machete slicing through the air is not something most people hear every day. Yet one balmy Friday morning in March, I found myself hearing that thwack over and over as our guide Ratu led a group of guests and hotel employees through an overgrown path toward his village. As we reached a clearing and got our first look at the village we’d come to assist in building water filters, I glanced over at my teenage son in time to see his eyes widen. It’s safe to say, coming from the urban sprawl of San Francisco, neither of us had ever experienced anything quite like this before!
My family and I arrived in Fiji just a day earlier, tired from a long plane journey but quickly boosted by the friendly faces that greeted us at Nanuku. Chatting with the front desk supervisor, we were told that hotel guests were welcome to join a group hotel team members and guests on a special project the next morning. Intrigued, I asked for details and learned that volunteers were planning to visit a nearby village to help them build and install additional water filtration systems for World Water Day, a United Nations designated day of service, advocating for the sustainability of freshwater resources.
I eagerly signed us up, because it’s not every day you get to be a part of something truly meaningful on the other side of the world. That, and the pool would feel so refreshing after a day of giving back.
When we arrived at the village on World Water Day, the sense of community was tangible. I counted 26 houses in total, each home to an entire, multi-generational family and arranged in neat, grid-like rows around a central clearing. We gathered to survey the situation and get ourselves organized. The problem was straightforward: additional drainage was needed so it wouldn’t wind up in the Navua River nearby. This river and its tributaries are an important source of water for local communities. With a bit of ingenuity and a few extra hands chipping in, this drainage problem could be easily remedied.
We broke off into smaller teams, tasked with building a simple bio-filter for a few households each. In my group were a few young men from the village, one of the hotel restaurant managers, and my family. Together we formed an assembly line, arranging the materials into small stations with one or two of us looking after each step of the process.
I noticed as my son carefully, methodically measured and cut holes into each of the five-gallon containers we’d brought with us. “I want to do it right, this is really important,” he said at one point, possibly getting the sense that he was moving too slowly. I placed my hand on his shoulder and beamed with pride. To travel is indeed a wonderful luxury, but to see your family come together with the aim of helping others? Moments like this are the stories we’ll recount over the dinner table for years to come.
“Take your time,” I told him, and I meant it.