Recently in Fiji Category
In August 2008 a Seacology group traveled to Fiji to open two new projects. In Ketei Village, located on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu Seacology funded the construction of a community center in exchange for the creation of a 900-acre forest reserve. Our visit to Ketei began with a traditional kava ceremony. Kava is the ground up root of a pepper plant which acts as a calming agent. It has been the center of Fijian traditional life for hundreds of years. (Right, water is being poured into a kava bowl to begin the kava ceremony.)
As Karen wrote in her last entry, we have a very small staff here at Seacology - only six of us. The result is a pretty efficient group of individuals who all take care of more tasks than what our official titles would reveal. While I spend a little over half my work day processing all things financial, I spend almost about as much time reviewing projects in process and communicating with field representatives and project leaders about the current state of their programs.
One thing I have found fascinating over the years is the frequent request from project partners from widely different cultural regions to have Seacology provide a public meeting space in exchange for their decision to conserve their environment. The design of these buildings is planned at the site by community members in conjunction with hired contractors and either a Seacology field representative or a project leader. This planning process involves a high degree of cultural knowledge of building techniques that are appropriate for the extreme weather in the particular area as well as what makes sense in terms of community size and purpose. (Above right: Niakokokoro, Fiji Center; Left: Sarinbuana, Indonesia Center)
Seacology has initiated over 20 projects in Fiji, thanks in part to our field representatives in the region. The work of the field representatives was discussed in Karen's most recent blog, "How a Seacology Project is Born". Because we work so often with Fijian villages, we have received many thank you gifts from these wonderfully generous people - and most of these have ended up on the walls of the Seacology office.
This week we heard from Seacology's field representative in Fiji, Mr. Saula Vodonaivalu Jr. He has just visited Nukubalavu Village at Savusavu, Vanua Levu Island. In exchange for the village establishing a 25,600 acre marine reserve for twenty years, Seacology is providing funds to build a kindergarten building (below). The building is now almost complete with installation of fixtures and fencing still to be completed as soon as the building supervisor can return to the village.
Also, we received a brief report from our field representative for Micronesia, Mr. Simon Ellis. While Seacology's project with Palau Conservation Society (PCS) at
Lake Ngardok (right) has experienced some delays due to the building permitting process, all permits were granted last month and PCS is ready to begin purchasing materials and finalizing plans to begin construction of a solar-powered eco-friendly visitor and education center at the lake. Seacology is providing the funds for this construction in support of the 1,236-acre Lake Ngardok Nature Reserve.
Seacology receives updates from our island projects weekly. Here are a few from the last couple of weeks. In Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia, Seacology funded the installation of a solar power energy system for the Utwe Walung Marine Park community center in 2000. The solar system had not been working for some time due to the lack of current community member training on the system's maintenance and the harsh weather conditions on the system's batteries. A cement building has been built to house the batteries and Seacology is providing a second grant to repair the system and provide a training session. Work is scheduled to begin in late October.
On Atiu Island, Cook Islands, an opening ceremony was held on September 21st for the brand new geriatric house for community members. This housing was built with Seacology funds in support of the community's decision to establish a 297-acre wildlife sanctuary and five mile restricted fishing zone on Takutea Island for twenty years. Two hundred members of the community attended the event as well as a member of Parliament, the Atiu Mayor and the Atiu Secretary. Field representative Allan Tuara spoke on behalf of Seacology and had the honor of turning the key to declare the building open.
New Guinea - these are odd words to begin an item about Fiji. But that is where i am as you read this; on a dive boat visiting Seacology projects in the Raja Ampat section of New Guinea. I'll be back in time for my next entry and fill you in on this trip. For now let's focus on Fiji, one of the largest nations in the South Pacific. Fiji's 300 islands are located 1,300 miles north of New Zealand. I have been to Fiji over 10 times, mostly to visit some Seacology projects there.
Is Fiji a great travel destination? You bet it is. Fijians are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. The first time I was in Fiji the people were so friendly I thought they were putting me on. I was born and raised in the suburbs of NY and was not used to such overwhelming hospitality. And Fijians LOVE children. If you are thinking of taking your kids to a beautiful island this is the place to go. Of course diving, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, swimming and relaxing make this a wonderful place for adults to visit. Unlike a lot of exotic locations there are accommodations for every budget from backpacker hostels to high end resorts.
When leading a Seacology trip we stay at the Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort. Yes, its on the expensive side but if you can afford it, it is worth every penny. The setting on the island of Vanua Levu is wonderful, the food is great, the children's program is fantastic and this is one resort that really cares about the environment. The Cousteau Fiji Resort has received many awards from travel publications throughout the world and was recently recognized by the readers of Trip Advisor as the number one environmentally friendly resort in the world.
Polynesians share many similar cultural traits, from language and music to family structure. One of the most sacred of Polynesian traditions, the kava ceremony, is also one of the most well-known. Tasting like a wet dish towel to my unrefined palette, kava is a relaxant which was banned in 2003 by several countries because of medical concerns. A recent push to lift that ban (Fiji Times article, September 24) and a new University of Hawai'i study (Honolulu Advertiser article by Dan Nakaso, September 22) brings kava back into the news. Despite these developments, it is the tradition of the kava ceremony that interests me most.
Kava has many names: 'ava in Samoa, 'awa in Hawai'i, yaqona in Fiji, and sakau in Micronesia. The drink is made from the ground root of the pepper plant Piper methysticum. The root, a long beige stick about 2 inches in diameter, is ground to a pulp and then massaged in a sack made from coconut fiber and mixed with water to make the juice. The drink is collected in a wooden bowl with legs and one uses a half-coconut shell to scoop the liquid.