Volunteering in Fiji
Discover volunteering opportunities in Fiji and say ‘bula’ to an island nation of rugged landscapes, turquoise water, and a truly unique culture.
Fiji is one of the more modern Melanesian countries, home to some of the friendliest people on the planet who want you to share in their legendary hospitality.
Fiji is the economic and technological hub of the South Pacific and has one of the region’s most developed economies. It is also the hub for international development in the Pacific and facilitates development assistance throughout the region. Fiji’s main sources of foreign exchange are tourism and sugar, and the country is rich in natural resources, exporting timber, minerals, fish and fish products, manufactured goods and agricultural produce.
Located about 2,000 km northeast of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean, Fiji is a parliamentary democracy, and home to around 900,000 people. Most live on the nation’s two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, with the remainder distributed across about 110 of Fiji’s more than 300 islands.
Fiji is an outward-looking nation that has long contributed to international efforts to establish peace and security. Fijian soldiers fought with British forces in the first and second world wars, and the Fijian military has provided peacekeepers to support United Nations efforts throughout Africa and the Middle East for many years. Once a British crown colony, Fiji became independent in 1970 and is a member of the Commonwealth today. It is a secular state, and its constitution stresses a common and equal citizenry and full equality regardless of race, religion or gender.
The Fijian people would have to be one of the happiest and friendliest on earth. They greet everyone with a warm smile and a big bula (hello). You may start as strangers, but by the end of your time in Fiji you will be friends and looking forward to your next trip so you can see one another again.
Like its people, Fiji’s climate is warm year-round.
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of Fijian partner organisations to achieve their development goals since 1967.
Volunteering opportunities in Fiji support communities across a range of development priorities, including:
- Economic growth
- Health and education
- Private sector development
- Gender equality
- Climate change
Life as a volunteer in Fiji
Culture, religion and dress
Religion is an important part of Fijian culture and heritage, and the multi-cultural nature of the population means a wide range of religions are followed. Lovely examples of Christian churches, mosques, and Hindu and Sikh temples dot the main islands. Even if not religious, volunteers are welcome at a Fijian church service to join in with the magnificent singing, and to deepen their understanding of Fijian society. Dressing well and modestly is important. Volunteers can enquire with colleagues for suitable local churches and protocols.
Music and song are a big part of everyday life in Fiji. Meke, which includes all kinds of traditional song and dance, from graceful fan performances to athletic war dances that make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, is a popular cultural experience. Dancers are usually accompanied by a seated group who sing, chant and play percussion instruments. Men perform in warrior outfits, some bearing Fijian traditional tattoos, and women wear traditional dress with their skin shining from scented coconut oil. Each performance usually tells a story of history, love or legend. Whenever you get the chance to experience a meke, grab it! Fijians take great pride in their performance and the quality is exceptionally high.
Indigenous Fijian feasts are cooked in a lovo, an underground earth oven heated by hot stones. The slow cooking technique usually takes a few hours and produces beautifully tender food with great flavour retention and a light smokiness. Yam, taro, kumala (sweet potato) and cassava (tapioca), as well as pork, chicken fish or lamb, are popular.
Fijian Indian culture and traditions have evolved from the early days of labouring in the British-backed sugar industry. This includes Indian cuisine, which has developed into a deliciously unique blend of traditional spices, fresh local ingredients and a hint of Pacific flavours. If you like Indian cuisine you’ll love the flavours of Fijian Indian dishes.
Although English is spoken throughout Fiji and taught in schools from an early age, Fijian and Hindi are also official languages and typically the first language among indigenous Fijian and Fiji Indian cultures. Learning a few words of Fijian before you arrive, and how to pronounce the main place names correctly, will earn volunteers a few extra smiles. Ni sa bula or simply bula is the universal Fijian greeting and vinaka (pronounced veenaka) is ‘thank you’ or ‘good’.
Fiji has year-round maximum temperatures of between 26°C and 31°C. As a tropical island, the wet season is a vital part of Fiji's climate and is responsible for the lush environment and plant life that is so plentiful. Cyclones occur in Fiji but are normally confined to the wet season. Much of Fiji is characterised by wet and dry zones, something that is localised as the landscape shifts from lush jungle mountains and into grassy, weathered peaks.
Fiji’s telecommunications infrastructure is on par with that of developed countries. For international telecommunications, Fiji is directly linked to the Southern Cross Cable Network (SCCN), a third generation submarine fibre optic cable system with direct links to Australia, New Zealand and the US West Coast via Hawaii. Domestic telecommunications technologies available are satellite (VSAT), wireless (WiMax, CDMA and 3G), optical fibre and the traditional copper (ADSL).
Grocery shopping in Fiji usually means visiting more than one or two places. Seasonal fresh fruit and produce can be found in markets, and products with a long shelf-life at grocery stores. Grocery shopping can become a treasure hunt – some goods won’t be on the shelves every time you go! Volunteers are encouraged to stock up on foods they love.
Being a vegetarian in Fiji is easy thanks to the plethora of Indian food. Major restaurants usually have a vegetarian option, though finding vegan meals can be a challenge. At resorts, volunteers may need to alert staff in advance of any dietary restrictions so that they can prepare. The outer islands need time and planning to bring in goods from the larger islands and carefully calculate how much of each ingredient they’ll need for their guests.
Accommodation and transport
Like many cities, accommodation closer to the city centre is more expensive. Accommodation ranges from fully furnished apartments to semi-furnished apartments. Real estate companies assist volunteers and can show a diverse range of accommodation options. Rental properties require a bond payment.
Fiji's local transport network is relatively robust, offering a number of options for getting around – everything from flights, taxis and buses to passenger ferries. Domestic flights operate regularly and connect Nadi and Suva in approximately 35 minutes. Shared or private taxis are also quite cheap and can be a great way to see the countryside. Shared taxis from Nadi to Suva cost around FJ$17 while private taxis charge approximately FJ$80 from Suva to Sigatoka. Getting from Nadi Airport to the city centre will cost between FJ$8-10. The national speed limit is 80 km/h.
Fiji is relatively safe, and the most common forms of crime are opportunistic, such robbery and petty theft. Home break-ins are common and many residents employ a security guard or live somewhere with a high fence. Volunteers will be supported to consider this when choosing a place to live.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Fiji, please do some further research on living in Fiji and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.
How an Australian volunteer helped transform the lives of children in Fiji through his love of sport.