Life in the Fijian Highlands

On Monday 22 July, the Year 9 cohort embarked on an 11-day adventure in Fiji as part of the specialist Year 9 program, Heyington to Highlands. Olivia Nigido-Scott shares below her experience of the program.

What would you say if your school asked you to take part in an 11-day adventure on a tropical island in the South Pacific Ocean? Well, I replied, “Goodbye Melbourne winter and ‘bula’ Fiji!”

From the moment that I stepped off the plane in Nadi, I could not wait to experience life in the Fijian Highlands. And I was not alone – over 80 girls from St Catherine’s School (and our teachers) were on the same page. After a quick introduction to the Nadi fruit and vegetable market, we divided into three teams. I headed off to Draiba, the most remote of the three locations.

I do not want to give away all of the surprises that we encountered but I do wish to give you some idea of what an amazing opportunity it was. It is not an exaggeration to say that there was something for everyone. If you love the outdoors, like me, there was hiking, swimming in the river as well as a raft building and racing competition.

There are no gyms because they are not necessary. The villagers are fit from walking and are resourceful when it comes to building their strength. I found out just how strong they are when I participated in the annual inter-village games. My opponents threw 5 kilogram coconuts as if they were tennis balls.

And their sporting prowess continued in the netball. Branded shoes with extra cushioning were no match against the Draiba girls who can play a tough game. They taught us a thing or two as they jumped (barefoot) into the air and passed with lightning efficiency on an untamed grass court.

For the talented artists among us, there was singing, dancing and tie dying shirts. My brightly coloured shirt is a treasured memento – a reminder of the laughter and surprise as each unique swirling pattern revealed itself to its creator.

There were so many special moments. I will never forget the time that I spent with the Year 2 Draiba Primary School students. I was supposed to be helping them with their English but I think they found it much more entertaining trying to teach me Fijian. I love the way that they used exaggerated facial expressions when they sounded out the words to me and laughed as I tried to wrap my head around this unfamiliar language. Their patience was boundless, as I spoke Fijian with an Australian accent!

When the time came, I was surprised at how bereft I felt to be leaving. With no watches or social media, it had been easy to lose ourselves on Fijian time. Really living in the moment.

I loved Fiji but none of my wonderful experiences would have been possible or as meaningful without our exceptional hosts. I would like to say ‘vinaka vaka levu’ (thank you very much) for the extraordinary hospitality extended to us by the Draiba villagers. It is testimony to their character and generosity of spirit that we felt connected so quickly. We were embraced in a cloak of human kindness particularly by the ‘nei neis’ (aunties) who treated us as if we were their own children. They made sure that we felt happy and safe. Away from our own families, this meant the world to us.

Thank you also to St Catherine’s School, our teachers, group leaders and Destination Dreaming.

I hope that you take the opportunity to visit Fiji, and if you visit Draiba, please send them my love.

Olivia Nigido-Scott, Year 9 Student


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