School of Life in Fiji
WORDS & IMAGES: MELANIE GREVIS-JAMES
Supporting local businesses and the community is a key element of sustainable tourism. On my recent visit to Fiji I realised just how crucial this support can be. Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort shows just how well it can be done – and have a holiday in paradise at the same time.
The huge beaming smiles of the local children at Conua District School express their feelings better than any words can. They have surrounded Peter Hopgood, the general manager of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, and are impatiently and excitedly waiting in line for a handful of glass marbles. Peter knows exactly what the boys love best.
Conua District School – Kindergarten Project
Peter’s been involved with the primary school for six years now, and is a very welcome guest whenever he arrives. Peter identified the district school as a real needs school, and over the years the resort, with the help of guests, has paid for fences, a computer room, the bus shelter, roofing, school walkway, painting of the school, and the new 5-star cyclone rated Community Bure (Hall) which cost $200,000 FJD to build, and took one year to complete.
We are here with Peter, along with local dignitaries including from the Fijian Ministry of Education, to commemorate the start of the next project – the construction of a long-awaited and much-needed kindergarten, which is to be completed by November 2016. A staff member from Outrigger will be based at the school overseeing the project.
Peter explains, “the project is a win-win-win. It allows our guests to embrace local culture and the people of Fiji; it is a win for the resort; and most importantly a win for the community and for their future and education.”
Guests pay $100 FJD for the day-tour experience (departing the resort on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week) for the kindergarten project. On the tour guests help with the building of the kindergarten (no experience needed), stop at the nearby historic Tavuni Hill Fort (if open), visit the local hospital in Sigatoka, and take a wander around the bustling local markets.
Sigatoka Hospital – Maternity Ward
The resort has also contributed considerable funds to Sigatoka Hospital over the last 5+ years. Together with the Coral Coast Hotels Association the resort donated $600,000 FJD to build a maternity ward which opened in January 2015. Before that there were no maternity or midwife services in the district, so women mostly gave birth at home, or in emergency were taken to Suva where the nearest facilities were available. Birth mortality was high in the district; since the opening of the maternity ward, the birth mortality rate has dropped to zero.
Sigatoka River Safari
In addition, the resort works closely with tour operators in the area to encourage resort guests to get out and experience Fiji with the locals. We spent a day on the Sigatoka River, jet-boating to a local village where we sampled traditional food and hospitality, and saw just how important families and communities are to Fijians.
Captain Leps, our chatty (and cheeky) guide from Sigatoka River Safaris was very well-informed about local history and culture – he also had a very good sense of humour. He advised us that the village we were visiting for lunch was called Koronisagana, which translates as “Village of Thighs”, but that luckily for us the current chief of the village doesn’t like thighs. Traditionally, the village chief was always entitled to select their favourite part first. We were all very relieved that Fiji converted from cannibalism to Christianity in 1867.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort – Community Tourism & Eco Projects
The Outrigger Fiji also hosts and funds a ‘learn to swim’ program each year. Local children aren’t taught to swim at school, and the country has high drowning statistics. Australian Olympic gold-medallist Shane Gould donates her time twice each year to visit the Outrigger Fiji, providing free swimming lessons for local children, both at the resort, and in the Sigatoka River for local villagers. Last year 800 children attended the swim program run by the resort.
As for reef conservation, guests are encouraged to take part in the resort’s OZONE project – a great way to learn about the reef ecosystem, and assist with reef regeneration. Kini Sarai, the resort’s Activities Manager and cultural advisor oversees the ‘fish houses’ project to regenerate coral areas on the fringes of the resort’s reef and improve the health of the reef. New coral can grow up to 20cm in a couple of months. Each Outrigger property has its own OZONE project.
Under the guidance of Peter, the resort has also helped with a mangrove regeneration project in the nearest village, Korotogo (where most of the resort’s staff come from), and have sponsored the restoration of the local police station.
Tourism is the biggest income earner in Fiji’s economy, accounting for 37% of the national income; followed by sugarcane and manufacturing. Responsible tourism contributes directly to improving people’s lives, education, and ensuring a better future.
Holidaying in paradise, sitting under a palm tree, and watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean is what Fiji is famous for – but it can also offer so much more. It can provide the opportunity to make a difference. For me, Fiji has created lasting memories, and has satisfied me much more than a pretty sunset ever could – although they are spectacular sunsets and not to be missed.
As the Fijian Ministry for Education spokesman so eloquently quoted to us: “what we do for ourselves dies with us, what we do for others’ lives forever.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Editor’s Note: The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort undertakes a number of responsible tourism programs; including Outrigger’s global conservation program called OZONE, which supports efforts to assist conserving the ocean, and reef planting projects.
Melanie is the founder and publisher of Our Planet Travel – passionate about the protecting the environment and about travel. Melanie has an extensive career in Australian and international tourism marketing, spanning over 29 years in key marketing roles within all levels of the tourism industry; and over the last 10+ years has had a focus on promoting more sustainable tourism experiences. Melanie also loves photography and takes many of the photos featured on Our Planet Travel herself. Melanie owns Our Planet Traveland Our Planet Marketing, based in Brisbane. Her favourite destinations are the Australian Outback desert regions, Italy – in particular Siena and Tuscany – and anywhere she can escape to be in nature.
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