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Katie Chuter - Nutrition in Fiji

As a student of Nutrition at the University of Leeds, I really wanted to put my nutritional knowledge into practice. I found Projects Abroad online and found the Nutrition Project in Fiji to be the perfect fit for what I wanted to do. After graduating last summer, I decided to start saving for the project and make my dream into a reality. I had one year to prepare, save, and get excited for the experience of a lifetime!

My first impressions of Fiji

Volunteers run a Zumba class for local Fijian children

After working and saving for a year, my adventure to Fiji soon came around. After leaving Australia, the flight to Fiji was only a few hours and the first part of my solo travel, therefore I was very apprehensive of what to expect. I landed in Nadi to be welcomed by “BULA!” and some Fijians playing a welcome song, as well as being met at arrivals by a member of Projects Abroad. My fears were put aside instantly by the friendliness of the Fijians.

After a short taxi ride, I was welcomed by my host mother, Lela. Nadi itself was not how I imagined Fiji to look like – Nadia is on the mainland and far from the tropical paradise I had envisaged. I had many amazing experiences living in Fiji.

Nadi market was a great experience and it had a fresh fruit and vegetable market where you could get a range of local produce. The local bus was also another memorable experience: 70 cents a journey and a buzzing atmosphere from the reggae remixes blasting out, as well as being surrounded by the locals who would always shout “bula” to everyone. This was something I absolutely loved, it was so refreshing that everyone who you pass in the street would say “bula” to you whether you knew them or not.

My Nutrition placement in Fiji

Creating materials for health awareness talks in the community

Nutrition is something that I am very passionate about. After studying nutrition for four years at university, I was so happy to be researching and actively educating people about nutrition again. The project is very varied and no day is the same. When I was at the project, the nutrition team expanded with new volunteers every week. This also enabled me to get involved in lots of different areas, from health screening, cooking demonstrations, Zumba, and presentations where we spoke about important nutritional information.

Doing arts and crafts at a kindergarten in Nadi

Despite its small size, Fiji has the second highest rate of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the world. I found this shocking and the rate of diabetes and heart disease was very high, making our work even more important. I experienced first-hand high rates of blood sugar through the health screening, which was extremely alarming.

However, the local people we worked with were always so interested to hear what we had to teach them and usually very responsive and willing to get involved. Therefore, working with a cross spread of Fijians in schools, businesses and local communities meant that our nutrition messages and activities were wide spread. I was only at the project for a month and sadly, it was over in the blink of an eye.

Staying with a host family in Fiji

Volunteers and local people after an outreach in Fiji

I was fortunate enough to have air con, Wi-Fi and a warm shower at my host family, all of which felt very luxurious and were not expected at all. My vision when going to stay in Fiji was having a cold bucket shower outside, however I was very pleasantly surprised! My host family could not have been friendlier and I will never forget their openness and loving nature.

Living with a host family is the best way to immerse yourself into Fijian culture and their way of life. My family consisted of three brothers and one sister as well as my Fijian host mother and father and up to two other volunteers. It was always a bit chaotic, but it was nice being surrounded by lots of people. My host mother was a good cook and included many local vegetables and I never went hungry! Food is a big part of Fijian life and meal times are very important, so everyone eats together.

Travelling around the Fijian islands at the weekends

Volunteers spend time together in Fiji

When people say Fiji is paradise they mean it! Seeing various islands at the weekends with the other volunteers all added to my experience while in Fiji. On the first weekend after I arrived, the other volunteers were at Beachcomber Island, which meant I got to meet all of them before starting my project. This was a great opportunity to meet everyone and see some of Fiji.

Other weekends included the Bula Festival, the sleeping giant mud baths and Kuata Island, all of which were paradise. I could not have dreamt of anything better than being on a small Fijian island with newfound friends soaking up the sun and enjoying cold drinks.

I just want to say a big thank you to the Projects Abroad team in Fiji and my Fijian host family, as well as all of the volunteers I met along the way, one of which I ended up carrying on travelling with after the project finished. What an experience and opportunity and it is something I will cherish forever. Vinaka Fiji!

Katie Chuter

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