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Fiji: The Welcoming Nation

We learn the most when we are strangers and the best way to be a stranger is by landing ourselves in a new place.”- this is the biggest motivation I bear with me as a travel enthusiast and civil engineering student. Studying in Australia as an international student, the values of getting along with people of various age, class and society are quite precious to me as it opens the door to understanding relevant industrial activities and cultural diversity. And Traveling to Fiji was yet another whole new experience to me which I had been longing for.

I personally believe I learned and acquired more than I could imagine in these 14 days of intensive travel and working on project. And the Fijian Rural Culture is the best one to start off with. In Australia, we usually never think of keeping our doors open to neighbours and friends, nor do we allow our day to day life utensils to be used by outsiders every then and now (unless consented). Unless any occasion, more often than not we don’t aim to have a family dinner every night too or at least one meal throughout the whole day.

In Fiji, these are totally opposite. Outside their own families, every single person living around them, let it be neighbour, friend or simply some stranger, they are always welcome to their homes. Except for night, their doors are always kept open indicating everyone is welcome and they are allowed to use anything from their house too. At least one square meal with the whole family is like an unwritten law for the locals. That’s not where their humbleness ends, when someone passes by their house while they are having lunch, they invite them saying ‘Mai Kana’ (Come and eat) to join them for the meal or to at least have some. This not only brings them closer but also strengthens their bonds with each other. Thus they can tackle any issue in everyday life being united while looking after one another.

An unforgettable yet typical sunset in Fiji! (Credit: Tahmim Islam)

For the program Social Enterprise and Sustainable Development, Fiji ticks all the criteria as a country to travel to. For a country with around 8 million population and not huge area of land, they have systemized their lifestyle in such a way that helps to minimize waste and carbon emission, which ultimately contribute in stabilizing the effects of climate change.

For example, in rural places, they use reusable plates, spoons, forks, knives and so on. Plastic is barely used in such cases hence no headache of recycling. I remember going to this fuel station by the roadside for using their toilet where toilet paper needed to be bought for 20 cents because they didn’t keep toilet paper inside the toilet. This also explains how seriously they are working to reduce recycling as well. Moreover, they collect rainwater since the wet season lasts for couple of months and it rains very often and so they store it for drinking and other uses. So, no need of using extra power or electricity/ gas to purify water over that period. Most of their food and staples are produced by themselves through traditional farming so mills and factories are quite not the popular system of producing and processing food which can minimize the use of electricity, gas and last but not the least emission of gaseous pollutants (carbon or sulphur) by a great scale.

An Illustration of Lunch in Fiji Villages. Picture Credit: Josh Hernandez

Personally for me, one of the biggest achievements would be learning new ways of solving problem and managing projects. For an engineer, when it comes to managing projects, we usually go by top down or bottom up method. We tend to find the solution first and then tailor it according to the needs of the environment and other factors. But here while working on Social Enterprise, I learnt about ‘pivoting’. Rather than jumping to the solution, the system and environmental factors are analysed first and based on the needs and obstacles, the solution is designed and tried out. An instance would be, for engineers (Civil), if we are to connect two villages to establish communication, we’d jump straight to constructing a road and based on geographical factors and transportation we would come to a decisive conclusion whether the road should be appropriate and if not, how to design it effectively rectifying its flaws. Unless the design solution is unsupportive, we will most likely stick to the solution of road or the solution we choose initially. But in Social Enterprise and working with the students of BCII (Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation), we will go through empathy stage, will talk to the villagers, pay attention to what they need and what can improve the communication and based on other factors we will choose if a road is effective or maybe a bamboo made bridge. If the solution has flaws, then more pivoting is done and this goes on until and unless the most flawless and suitable design has been discovered. In a nutshell, the trip, project and the country, Fiji developed my personal attributes in the shortest possible time. I got homesick from the second day but I was kept away from that feeling by the amazing hospitality and unforgettable friendliness, enthusiasm and humour of the Fiji villagers.

Living off the grid for 5 days helped me understand the value of non virtual life in a new way and how we can actually remain happy with our family and friends without what we think is ‘true happiness’ on the social media and virtual world. Any situation can be overcome by staying united as a nation and it doesn’t have to be always starting from the Government level, rather can be from community and personal level, especially for Climate Change-Fiji sets the best instance for that out there.

Happiness is, indeed, a choice and life is just a drawing canvas. Just a simple shape drawn on it can make you as happy as the most time consuming one, choice is yours.


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