Tourism lending a hand in Fiji
WORDS & IMAGES: MARIE BARBIERI
Community development projects offer visitors a personal and rewarding experience – and the chance to make a real difference to someone’s life.
“Bula!” It’s that ubiquitous word that rides on the wind wherever you roam in Fiji. You can’t pass a person without hearing it, or saying it, for it’s infections. Fiji, that tropical oasis basking in the Pacific Ocean, is the land of the wide smile and silken song. And when Isa Lei is sung to you before you leave, you know you’ll return to Fiji’s shores.
On my recent return, I stayed at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, on Viti Levu’s Coral Coast. Laid out like a traditional Fijian village, where 95% of the staff are local, the resort is patchworked by a roofscape of thatched bures. But this was no standard holiday. In fact, Outrigger is no standard stay, but rather, is a values-based and community tourism-focussed company.
Local Community Walkathon
Every month, a different department of the hotel runs some form of community service. With fundraising at the heart of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort’s operations, a suite of authentic cultural experiences allow visitors to give back to the local community. I took part in the annual Outrigger Walk for Kids Walkathon, helping to raise funds for the Sigatoka School for Special Education and Conua District School.
At 7am, led by Outrigger General Manager: Peter Hopgood, we set off from reception. It was a casual 10km-long walk along the Queen’s Highway, but Fijians can pack a mighty pace. Along with 200 of us pounding the gravel, dozens of local children headed the ‘race’, charged with excitement. We passed mangrove-lined beaches, goats shading beneath trees, locals carting home their market produce, a couple of determined dogs keeping up with the best of us, and honking lorries spurring us all on.
Arriving in a pool of sweat and smiles at the Sigatoka School for Special Education, kids high-fived “Mr Peter”, proud of their achievement. The walkathon raised an impressive FJD$42,000. Chief guest at the event was Acting Prime Minister, the Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, who announced a generous personal pledge towards the fund of FJD$20,000. And Mrs Lanieta Matavesi, the school’s board member, delivered a thank you address before festivities commenced.
Jubilant celebrations saw kids bouncing wildly on an inflatable castle and having their faces painted. Others sang to us through sign language. And muscle-packed, grass skirt-clad warriors danced the meke, until a sizzling sausage barbecue replenished energy levels for all.
The funds raised will facilitate the purchase of a four-wheel-drive vehicle to allow teachers at Sigatoka School for Special Education to operate outreach programs for those unable to attend in person.
Conua District School
The following day, Mr Peter led a visit to rural Conua District School, in the Sigatoka Valley. These visits are offered to hotel guests wishing to volunteer their time assisting with community projects. No sooner were we through the gates, when tiny feet raced from the building. The faces on these kids were ecstatic, as they clasped our hands ready to show off their school.
Since 2010, the student population at Conua has increased, threefold, much due to Outrigger’s sponsored projects. A recent milestone was achieved with the construction of the Eddie Betts kindergarten (aided by the philanthropy of Adelaide Crows AFL legend), two new classrooms, a computer room, a library and a meeting bure.
The construction of additional teachers’ quarters is now underway, and during my visit, I was lucky enough to cross paths with fellow Aussie, Mark Luckey. Mark decided to return to Sigatoka after becoming inspired by Outrigger’s charitable initiatives during a family holiday. He is currently donating his time and labour to complete the new teachers’ accommodation. “I wanted to help build something constructive,” he said. “And it’s added meaning to my life.”
Outrigger has also facilitated with the addition of a maternity ward and medivac helipad at Sigatoka District Hospital. And in 2016, an eye scanner for the eye clinic was finally afforded, helping the doctors to detect early-onset diabetes. They also provide accommodation to the eye specialists from Benevolent Mission International that restores eyesight to around 80 locals per year.
Outrigger is the finest example of how companies and corporations can work together to improve the lives of others. If you too are inspired to help the lives of Fijians, why not come and join the family yourself at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort. It will change you!
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.
Marie is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer. Based in Adelaide, she has a personal passion for wildlife and conservation, and enjoys nature-based activities, dancing and yoga (and tea and chocolate!). Marie travelled as a guest of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort.
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