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My name is Mia, I am 23 and I am a current final year BA (Hons) Social Work student at Bournemouth University. I spent five weeks in Fiji, on a Youth Empowerment Project with Think Pacific through funding with the Turing Scheme.

Ever since I was a teenager, I always knew that I wanted to try to travel to areas of the world where I knew I could make a positive impact. I wanted to be able to gain experience in areas of the world that have not had any mental, physical, or general well-being support. Although I knew it would be challenging, I was keen to be able to see what impact I could make. I was keen to develop both personally and professionally but also to learn and immerse myself in a different culture.

I came across Think Pacific on Facebook and when the Turing scheme funding popped up, I knew I had to apply! Applying for the Turing scheme funding was easy- the Global Engagement Team made the whole process stress free and were extremely supportive. I attended a Pre-Departure Session where I was informed of what I would need to do for everything to progress smoothly.

Applying for the initial voluntary position was straight forward, I applied through the Think Pacific website and then had a zoom meeting with a member of the Think Pacific staff. I was asked if there was a particular project I wanted to do and they then asked for specific dates. I found out on the same day that I had been accepted onto the project I chose! As soon as I was accepted, I went straight to YouTube to watch some videos on what to expect. I knew a few friends who had taken part in years prior, so I asked them a million questions on what to expect. I soon realised that every single experience is different and that it was best not to watch too many videos, otherwise I would have stressed myself out!

The months flew by and suddenly I arrived in Fiji! I was immediately greeted with open arms by the Fijians.

There were aThree female students standing posing for a picture group of men playing the ukulele and singing traditional Fijian songs and it was captivating! I was feeling excited, apprehensive and lucky to be able to do this. As soon as we entered the village, we were welcomed with open arms by the inspiring individuals of Navutulevu village. From the first second of my experience in village, I knew I would feel at home in no time.

We were welcomed with traditional Fijian food, songs & dance as well as our first taste of their social beverage Kava/Grogg. The only way I can describe the taste of kava is the taste of earth. The volunteers & I call it the ‘Woody Earth Juice’.

I was quickly introduced to my amazing family, alongside my partner in crime (fellow volunteer) Sunaina. When we entered our house for the first time, Sunaina and I were shocked to see a double bed for us to sleep in! We were not expecting it at all. As we sat down for dinner, I watched my Fijian Mum as she served us fish, rice and taro leaves (spinach!) for the first time. Over the following few days, the whole village would start to feel like a second family.

I never knew I could feel so at home, so far away from home. Different families would shout your name inviting you in for dinner and we would end it in a ‘hop hop’ (dance) session.

Our main purpose in the village, as volunteers was to talk and raise awareness around six different key themes. Public Health, Mental Health, Leadership, Environment, Business and Sports Development were the key themes for the 3 weeks we were there! Think Pacific work alongside the Fijian government and these were the themes we had to stick to, however we could lead them how we thought best! I led Mental health and leadership workshops which gave me a greater insight to what these individuals knew or would like to know more of. I was excited to learn off them as well as they are very smart individuals. Mental health was not spoken about in the village and this was evident, so it was challenging to find effective ways of communicating our points without confusing them!

However, once we had found effective ways of communicating our points, we were really able to discuss with them about what they would find beneficial. From there, we were able to apply these to each workshop so it would be a positive end result!Group of people sitting together on the floor looking up at the camera

My whole experience has completely empowered me. I feel so grateful for everything back home but I am also so grateful to have a second family in Fiji. I have made the most phenomenal life long friendships, memories to last a lifetime and conquered my fear of spiders! Fijian’s are the kindest, happiest and most down to earth people and I am grateful for their life lessons and for everything they have/continue to teach me. Without the Turing funding, I would not have been able to take part in this experience.

I feel grateful for the chance to have taken part, but even more grateful to the Turing funding for accepting me!This whole experience is something I wish everyone could experience. If I could tell myself any piece of advice before I went on this project, it would be embrace every moment in the village as it flies by, live for the moment and never forget the impact you can make.

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