Sam Williams reflects on the last Communities for Communities trip to Fiji

Last trips are always the hardest. We say goodbye and wonder; when will we see you again?

On our last trip to Fiji,we had a group of 14 excited volunteers. It was a perfect mixture of first-time immersioners and seasoned veterans that all got along famously – mostly in part because we were all there with our families. Lisa Cummins had her sister Patsy and daughter Amy, Justin had his sister Kaz, Robert and his son Patrick, Lance and his son Jack, plus Jack’s ‘main squeeze’ EJ ’ and his good mate Brenton. Finally, there was my father Warwick, and my nephew – and Warwick’s grandson – Harry. Three generations working together to help build a better life for Tavuya generations to come.

From day one we all clicked. Throughout the trip, we had mishaps and injuries and everyone was there to help each other. We got on the build site Monday and there was an extreme sense of purpose and drive.  Many of our first timers had never painted anything before or used a hammer. But our five immersion ‘rookies’ nailed it…pun intended!  With guidance from our trusted and extremely skilled Fijian builders, to the outstanding leadership and guidance from Rob, Lisa, and Lance, we all came home thinking we could enter the block! We had the foundation and walls done on day one. Day two saw the floors and roof structures in place and by Wednesday we had practically completed the two houses minus some decorations. It was pretty incredible being able to see a product built from the ground up and see it right through to the end.

To accomplish this with my dad and nephew – three generations from one family – made it all the more special. What makes this experience even more rewarding is building side by side with the people of Tavuya Village and looking at the faces of the house recipients as the structure comes together. We built two homes and in doing so, we built friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. We had two birthdays on the 2nd of October – our eldest statesmen Rob, at 70 and our youngest, Harry at 15. This goes to show that no one is too old or young to do this trip (unless you’re under 15…sorry).  Communities for Communities is a place where all are welcome, and all are helped. Being a bit younger, my nephew Harry had a special bond with the teenagers in the village. His age and interests allowed him to connect in a whole different way to the rest of us on the trip. Seeing the way that this immediate bond affected both the local kids and Harry, I could not recommend it more to others. The lifelong memories Harry has gotten from this will forever change his views for the better. It lays a strong foundation of teaching not only teenagers but also all ages to be humble, give back to those less fortunate and be grateful for what we have.

 

Immersion trips are not just about helping the local communities but also about educating us on local culture and traditions. Throughout Fiji, there is a very important and respectful tradition of drinking Kava with the communities to show respect for them and their homes and people. On Thursday, we were lucky enough to visit an amazing school right on the coast, which while in a beautiful location, and filled with children who were always smiling, was in desperate need of proper resources. To give some much needed school equipment to these deserving children and to spend time running around and playing games with them, hearing them sing songs and showing them photos of our beautiful country, you see their faces light up with such pure excitement. Even just taking a selfie with them is a new and wonderful concept! One thing we all took away from our visit to the school and Fiji is just how happy every child was despite their situation. They are simply happy with what they have and grateful for everything.

Finally, came what I refer to as ‘Emotional day’ – or Friday – our last day in the village. It was a day full of so many emotions as we rejoice in giving a family a new home but also take such sorrow in saying goodbye to our new found family. It started with a sombre wet boat ride to the village. We shared some blessings and some beautiful words from all three parties: Habitat Fiji, Lisa, Amy, Pat, a very emotional Rob from C4C and finally from the village head man Rusi, who was also one of the house recipients of our trip. In a moving tribute he knelt in front of us all and spoke emotional Fijian words with tears streaming down his face. We couldn’t understand what he said but we didn’t need to. His emotion and tears spoke in volume about how grateful  he and the whole community were for what we had achieved, not only on this trip but for every single trip and volunteer that visited this village and made a difference before us. The sun came out at the perfect time, just as we begun the  ribbon cutting ceremonies for the homes. The smiling sky, much like all of our volunteers and the Tavuya village, was the perfact backdrop to the newly decorated homes and the thousands of photos we took on our final day with our proud new home owners and their friends and family.

We concluded our trip the best way possible; with dancing. We each received a big floral necklace made specially for us by the Tavuya women, played games with the children and shared one final lunch with our new community and friends. In my opinion, this was the most rewarding part of the trip.  We not only reflect on what we achieved in two years, six or seven trips or the last five days, we also reflect and learn how these people and this village have changed and impacted our lives for the better.

This was my third trip overseas with Communities for Communities and each time I have left an immersion, I feel I have gained more than what I have given. What we do on these immersions is a true ‘win-win’ in life.

A special thanks the 13 other amazing people that joined me on this immersion,  especially Lance, Amy and Lisa who ran the trip. I would also like to pass on the thanks from the village for every single person that visited Tavuya over the course of our project there with Habitat Fiji. You truly made a difference.

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