Visits to Vanua Levu and Taveuni – October 2007
Our journey to Vanua Levu started at 4 am, when we had to find someone to help us transport us and our 6 boxes of resources to Suva bus stand. Fortunately, this one of the rare mornings when it was not actually raining on the Suva side of Viti Levu and we were able to stand at the roadside until a willing cab driver came along. That only took a few seconds, even at this hour of the day!
At the bus stand we waited for the bus to arrive, and, quite amazingly, all the passengers and their vast amount of luggage were squeezed in, and we headed off towards Natovi. The aisle was piled high with sacks of taro, boxes of rice, newly woven mats to give as presents for all kinds of family occasions, twisted yaqona roots wrapped in newspaper to present to the chief of the village and various completely unrecognisable objects, so getting on and off the bus entailed a certain level of mountaineering skill!
After a couple of hours the road deteriorated into a rough and very bumpy track. By now there were children running barefoot over the stony track to reach school and they all waved as we passed. Finally we reached Natovi wharf and spotted our boat just arriving with passengers from Ovalau.
The bus drove on to the ferry, but everything had to be offloaded, as there would be a different bus to collect passengers at the other end. Our boxes were stacked on a pallet at the side and we went upstairs to sit on the deck. The weather was warm and sunny, and the 4-hour crossing to Nabouwalu soon passed. On the way we saw shoals of flying fish and then dolphins appeared and were leaping playfully all around us!
When the boat docked at Nabouwalu there were people and vehicles everywhere – no thought for health and safety! We were met by Ahmadiyya school manager and he insisted on driving on to the boat to collect our boxes with no apparent regard for the people milling around and the vehicles trying to drive off – and then had to carry out a 3-point turn in the middle of all this commotion!
There followed another 2-3 hour journey on extremely bumpy tracks until we finally reached Batiri and saw Ahmadiyya Secondary School (the school where we have had sanitation facilities installed). By now the only thought in our minds was to see the sanitation block – in fact not just to see it, but to make use of it! We were both able to confirm that everything was in working order! When we spoke to the school’s head teacher, he said that there had been a noticeable improvement in the health of the students since the installation of the sanitation block. They were also much happier and able to concentrate better on their studies.
We have also had solar power installed at Ahmadiyya School and so we looked at that and heard what a huge difference it has made for the children to be able to use the lighting in one of the classrooms to do their homework in one of the classrooms (instead of straining their eyes by crowding round a single hurricane lamp to read). We heard from the staff of the effect that all these improvements are having on the education, health and general morale of the students.
The next day we had another very bumpy ride to reach Naduri – this time it was not quite so long (about an hour) and was mostly along the coast. Naduri itself is situated right by the sea. In fact, as we arrived, we spotted the villagers on the beach. They had been out overnight (as they do most nights) diving to catch beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers), which they were then boiling in huge drums over wood fires. After this they would be dried and weighed, and then sold to the Chinese food and medicine market. This is apparently the village’s only source of income.
We were taken through the village to the kindergarten that the charity has funded and spent a whole session with the children. They sang for us and invited us to join in with their activities. The children really love to come and because the building is positioned in the heart of the village, there is a very strong community feel about the whole project. We were able to donate boxes of pre-school resources to help them and they were thrilled with all the books, toys, games and art/craft materials.
Later that day we visited Koroinasolo in Bua where we have had water storage facilities installed at the school. We spent the afternoon talking with the staff and chatting with the children in their respective classes. It soon became very obvious to us just what a difference having fresh water has made, not only to the staff and children at the school, but also to the whole community in Koroinisalo Village. The health of the children started to improve almost immediately and as a result the attendance figures at the school have risen significantly. This means that there is far more continuity in the classroom, so there seems to be a much more focused and confident approach to learning among the children. We were able to donate a box of brightly coloured reading books, stationery and other suitable resources, and these were accepted with enthusiasm.
That night we spent in Savusavu (on the south side of the island), ready for a very early morning flight to the island of Taveuni. We still had 2 of our boxes left over and we were asked to step on the scales with those to make sure the tiny plane would not be overloaded. The walked across the runway with the 4 other passengers and boarded the plane. It was a very rough flight and we were very pleased when we finally touched down on Taveuni. The roads on Taveuni leave much to be desired (especially after such a rough air crossing), but we managed to find someone with a vehicle that was able to cope with the bumps and potholes. He agreed to take us to Vuna District School that day and then to Bouma District School the following morning. These were 2 more locations where we have had fresh water storage tanks installed.
The staff and children at Vuna were thrilled to see us and proudly showed us their new tanks. They had experienced a period of heavy rain shortly before our visit and so the tanks were full. Once again there had been a significant improvement in health, attendance and general morale. We were treated to coconut juice (straight from the coconuts), fruit and cakes. Then the children entertained us with ‘meke’ (traditional Fijian dancing to the accompaniment of chanting and wooden rhythm instruments). The boys put on a particularly fearsome spear dance in our honour! We donated a box of books to the school, many of them given by the authors themselves and even signed and inscribed with a message in some cases. They were absolutely thrilled with those.
The next day we planned to visit Bouma (on the other side of the island) and set off early in the morning. However, although it was dry where we were staying, it had been raining heavily on the eastern side and we were unable to reach the school because of severe flooding. The books we had planned to donate to that school ended up being given to a school we happened to be passing on our way back to the air strip. The staff and children looked upon our visit as some sort of miracle!