Fiji Volunteers Return to the Country for the 50th Anniversary
By Guest Contributor on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011
This past June and July, 30 of us traveled to Fiji, some for the first time, most returning after a long absence from our days as young Peace Corps volunteers. The trip was arranged by the National Peace Corps Association Member Group Friends of Fiji, a non-profit whose goals are to keep Fiji Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and friends in touch and informed about current affairs in Fiji. Friends of Fiji supports a portfolio of projects submitted by Peace Corps Volunteers in Fiji.
We walked back over roads once traveled and extended our hand once again to a smiling people. This was a trip of memories, new friends, and new experiences helping our friends in Fiji. We returned to the land of green hills and teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to assist in the construction on two homes. The following week we had the opportunity to be a part of the swearing-in of a new batch of Peace Corps volunteers in Suva. It was marvelous; it was magical.
The goal for this trip was to re-create, to the extent possible, a micro-Peace Corps experience: to immerse ourselves into the life of the small community and to offer a helping hand.
Pat Milliren, Fiji II, said, “I think I’ve never worked in such an environment! In spite of obvious lack of tools that would have made our work so much more speedy in the U.S., our work progressed and was finished.” Dan Dworkin, Fiji I, mirrored her sentiments: “[This] was a day spent in a new paradigm, where rain doesn’t matter, where the seemingly impossible happens, where fifteen mud-caked Americans worked like stevedores in the mud to build an addition on a poor man’s house. There was much joy in our camaraderie, in our work. Our efforts were blessed.”
It did rain, as it does often in Suva, but it did not dampen spirits; on the contrary, I believe the rain on that first day, working in the mud, cemented our small team of volunteers, Habitat carpenters and host family. We worked in close quarters, ate in close quarters and smiled as the raindrops slipped from our soaked hair and down our noses.
At the end of the week, lovo’s were prepared to celebrate our work. Yaqona was prepared in a tanoa; some serious drinking followed.
Fifty years after the formation of the Peace Corps, on the 4th of July, we attended the swearing-in ceremony for the newest volunteers to Fiji. The American Ambassador to Fiji, Steven McGann, presided over the ceremony. The Fijian President, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, spoke, as did Ruth Larimer, the Peace Corps director to Fiji. Afterwards, we hosted the new volunteers. Fiji Bitter, stories of Peace Corps past and stories of Peace Corps present mingled. Thanks to the Friends of Fiji’s Cantor Fund for providing the beer.
And thanks to all who helped plan, fund, and participate in this grand 50th anniversary adventure.
This article was submitted by Ben Raterman Fiji IV (1971-73).