Your placement will vary greatly depending on your skills, experience, interests and most importantly the needs of the local organizations at the time of your placement. It is also important to be flexible and help out wherever and whenever necessary. Delays and set backs are common in Fiji, so please try to embrace these and enjoy them as part of the experience of living in a developing country.
If you work at the centre for children with disabilities:
Fiji has a growing poverty situation and the effects of population movement have led to increased demand on the health sector to cater for the disabled. The net result is that the people’s lifestyles have changed drastically over the last three decades and lack of awareness of the pressures of living in cities with widening boundaries, coupled with a lack of medi-care insurance programmes for all. The amazing work of the disability centres is incredibly inspiring, they strive for better provision for disabled adults and children often working long hours seven days a week. Working with these partners will be extremely rewarding as the work they do provides a service that otherwise would not be available.
You will shadow and assist the healthcare and educational professionals who run programmes for students with disabilities from the age of 6, likely being welcomed to take over the care of a designated group of students. The children and divided into six classes (with around six – seven children in each class): autistic group, pre-academic, high support needs and everything in between. The children have a variety of different disabilities for example: autism, Down syndrome, speech/communication delays, hearing and physical impairments including cerebral palsy.
Your placement may coincide with other necessary procedures at the center such as specialist testing (e.g. a visiting audiologist testing pupils), important information to be analysed or a particular pupil may have a case file needs to be looked at. In such instances your assistance may be required outside the classroom. This is a great opportunity to get stuck in with other aspects of running a center such as this in a developing country!
You will find yourself quickly connecting with the playful, charismatic students you are working with as you assist them with rehabilitation exercises, perform cognitive tests, or guide them through educational activities. Volunteers placed here will work with the teachers to manage the daily activities, such as: gardening, sports, music and dance, skills learning i.e. communication and pre-academic activities. They also deliver physical therapies, speech pathology and occupational therapies with the children on a daily basis. The teachers here are really excited to have volunteers come in with fresh ideas and are very open to volunteer’s suggestions.
If this is your placement of choice, it is recommended that you stay for at least 4 weeks in Fiji. This is so that your coordinator can ensure the school has a project just for you. If your stay is shorter than this there is no guarantee you will be able to work here.
If you work at the community & practical training centre for adults with disabilities:
This a community & vocational training centre specifically for adults aged 16 and over with varying disabilities including hearing impairments, autism, physical and visual impairments. The only one of its kind in Fiji, this innovative centre offers training in 9 different vocational areas including: agriculture, carpentry, sewing, clothing and textiles, cooking/catering, basic academic skills such as numeracy and literacy and IT skills. They also have a sheltered workshop for people with a very high level of disability and dependence. The centre enables these adults to take on sub-contractor jobs in which the students help to run a number of small enterprises such as a car wash, small shop where they sell what they have made, a book binding/repair service and a small library. Students also help out in the canteen as part of their studies. Volunteers can spend the first two weeks rotating between the different areas and supporting the students in their studies and then can choose which department they would like to spend the rest of their time with.
There is no minimum time to stay for this training center, if you choose to stay for less than 4 weeks this will be where you are placed. This does not mean the role is any less rewarding - many volunteers have enjoyed being able to work with adults and bringing their own twist to the classes!
Anyone with specific background or skills in speech pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapies or as an audiologist would get a lot out of this placement as they would be able to get involved with a high level of responsibility.
Regardless of where your placement is, you will always find that the staff members are kind and welcoming, and eager to have volunteers from around the world contribute any particular interests and ideas that they may have.
There is a lot of scope for variation within each organisation and as with any volunteer placement, the more effort and enthusiasm you put into this placement the greater the rewards. It is also important to be flexible and help out wherever and whenever necessary. Delays and set backs are common in Fiji, so please try to embrace these and enjoy them as part of the experience of living in a developing country.
You may also find you are involved in community outreach work. Please bear in mind that without medical qualifications you won’t be able to do anything too drastic, but you will still have a fascinating experience witnessing medical practices in a developing country.
If you have any specific requests on the kind of placement you would like please communicate this to LHQ as soon as possible, and we will try to accommodate these.