My STEP Signature Project was the Community Expedition with GVI in Silana, Fiji. I lived in the Silana Village for two weeks and worked along side other volunteers and members of the village such as the Headman, the chief, and the priest. Throughout my time in Silana, I travelled to other villages and spoke out about the importance of recycling, built new recycling points throughout villages which made it easier for people throughout the villages to organize and recycle their rubbish. Another way we contributed to the impovement of their village was the reconstruction of homes and other buildings that were previously destroyed from cyclone Winston. Another project we worked on was providing homes with their own garden. By doing this we were able to allow families to grow and sell their own fruits and vegetables instead of spending their money on produce. The community expo project provided me with a hands on learning experience that I never would have had anywhere else.
Throughout my time at Silana, I was welcomed by the village, given a family, and taught how to embrace the culture. Within the first couple of hours the new volunteers were welcomed during the church service and thanked in advance for the work we would be doing. Later, we met our home-stay families and had lunch together. Every day after the kids got out of school and I finished working I would meet them at their house. Together we would go over homework, get ready for dinner, talk about our days, and play games. There were even days when I would sit down with my younger siblings and help them with their English homework and instead they would teach me Fijian. For most meals on the weekdays the volunteers ate dinner together, however on my last night for dinner, we ate by the flashlight from my iPhone because most homes do not have electricity. After dinner the kids wanted to show me their favorite episode of the X Factor, so they grabbed their mother’s flip phone and pulled up a 30 second downloaded clip of a dance group and crowded together and giggled. As silly as this seems, that is one of the moments when I truly realized how lucky I was. Although the work I did in Silana through the expo team was extremely rewarding, my relationship with my host family made the experience something that will change my life forever.
During the two weeks I spent in Silana, I met many wonderful and caring people. One of the individuals I met that truly changed my perspective was Peter. At the age of 75, Peter was organizing, constructing and rebuilding his house that he had lost the previous year. From the time that the sun had begun to rise, til the stars came out, Peter was out working on his new house. I have never met anyone more determined than him in my entire life. Also, my Na (mother) was a single mother of three. Her husband died in 2012. As a single mother, who hardly makes any money as a teacher’s assistant, she was the strongest person I met. After constantly having to deal with negative events throughout the past couple of years, she still gets up every morning and does whatever she needs to do in order to give her children what they need to succeed. Although working within the community through construction and maintaining recycling, the most beneficial part of this experience were the connections I was able to make with the people of Silana.
Throughout the relationships I built and the work that I have done in Silana, my life has been changed forever. I have been able to find new meaning in a lot of daily activities, and I have realized everything that I take for granted. While in Silana, I have watched children under the age of 15 act as grown adults, taking care of other siblings, helping the older men work, and taking care of themselves in ways that many Americans around the age of 18 cannot do. Although community outreach has no direct impact to my future career choice, I still believe it has helped me become a better individual by allowing me to experience different culture. I can now say that this experience has helped me open my eyes to how differently the world is. I am confident that is experience has improved my social skills, and ability to refrain from judgment. These skills will help me in the future by allowing me to be confident and stand out from the competition.