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All About the Fiji Service Trip

| Leo Belman | lbelman20@dtechhs.org | December 16, 2019 |

During the first Intersession of the year, a group of 16 d.tech students and two d.tech staff members, Executive Director Ken Montgomery and Director of Learning Nicole Cerra, went on a service trip in Fiji. 

Students each had several reasons as to why they wanted to go on the trip. “I decided to go on the Fiji trip because I had never been to Fiji and I thought it’d be really cool,” said junior Keya Nandani. 

Senior Aya O’Malley felt similarly, and said, “I’ve always wanted to go to Fiji, it was like one out of three places I wanted to go to.” 

It also went deeper than that. Many of the reasons that the students gave had to do with helping people. 

“I was interested in doing the service work and one of my friends had just gone on a Rustic Pathways trip and she really enjoyed it,” said Nandani. 

O’Malley had previously gone on service trips and wanted to go on another. “Over the summer I did another service trip to New Mexico. I learned about the culture. I made houses for people […] I learned a lot and I sort of wanted to like take that up a notch,” she said. 

Students who attended the Fiji Service trip. Provided by Ken Montgomery

During the trip, the group stayed in cabins in an ecolodge (basically a green hotel) and slept in bunk beds. 

The main project of the service trip was to build a sidewalk for the people of Momi Village, but there was other work too. “We [also] got to go out snorkeling and find invasive species, and then pull them off the reef,” said Montgomery, “and we did meals. We got a cooking lesson so we could deliver meals to a woman’s shelter.” 

Many on the trip found the work to be difficult. “When we were mixing cement, it was really hot out and we were directly in the sun for like five hours at a time and it was a lot of manual labor,” said Nandani. She noted that just because it was hard did not mean it was bad.“It was still a good time.” Others agreed, Montgomery believing that the tasks helped the group bond. “I mean we were all out there shoveling, pushing wheelbarrows, mixing concrete getting covered in bug bites, getting sunburns, all like hard times, and you might complain about [them] when you’re going through them, but [in] the end [hard times] actually [brought] the group closer together.”

There was a lot of community building on the trip. “There were nights where we would all sit together and just drink kava, which is like [the Fijians’] cultural drink. And we all just sat in a circle just talking […] I feel like we became a little family there, our group,” said junior Ryan Yee. 

O’Malley wasn’t sure she wanted to go, because she didn’t know anyone on the trip in the beginning. She did decide to go, though. “In the end, I felt like [not knowing anyone] shouldn’t change my opinion on like wanting to go because I wanted to go originally to help people […] and like, having a friend there or not shouldn’t make it a problem,” she said. 

Even though it wasn’t her first priority, O’Malley still ended up becoming close with the others on the trip. “Eventually I did get to know a lot of the students, we all kind of got along and it’s just really fun,” she said. 

As well as bonding more with each other, many of the Fiji-goers noticed a powerful and tightly knit sense of community in the village, which they found to be inspiring. “It may not seem like the biggest thing in the world, but like if everyone’s coming together at this time in the afternoon and everyone eats together, I feel like that makes a big difference,” said Yee. 

“All the people in the village knew each other,” said Nandani. 

The community feeling that the village gave off extended to people outside as well. A story the group was told before entering a village, that seemed to resonate with many of them, was that if you were to complement a villager’s shoes, they would take their shoes off and give them to you. 

“They care more about their relationship with you than their material things,” Yee described. 

Another example of community engagement was what happened on Fiji Day. “It was their independence day. So all the kids were home from school and they all just like came out and helped work,” said Montgomery.

“If you saw PG&E workers outside your house, you wouldn’t go and join them. But all the kids came and helped us mix the cement and get the dirt, and like the whole community was outside helping us,” said Nandani. 

The group had fun playing with the kids in the village. “They didn’t really speak English very well, so it was a lot of, like simple games, like Quack Dilly Oso,” said Nandani. 

“[The] kids would climb on your back and like chase you and jump over stuff. It’s just really cute,” said O’Malley. 

For some, seeing this completely different type of community was a sobering experience (and for others, it was the opposite). Montgomery hopes to see more of what he saw from the Fiji community at d.tech. “I think the first step is just us taking the time to really get to know everybody […] It’s like whatever. 9th graders, 10th graders, and 11th and 12th. You guys are all part of the same village and like a senior should [feel comfortable] saying hi to a 9th grader and 9th graders should feel comfortable going up to a senior and saying hi,” he said. 

“[This is] just us trying to take that first step of breaking down these artificial barriers we put up between us and try to get to know each other,” Montgomery continued. 

Many of the people on the Fiji trip were glad they went, and have had their outlooks changed at least a little bit by the experience. “Just to get to see a different way of life than here […] it was life-changing,” said Yee.

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