John Gray Recyclers returned with fresh insights following their July visit to Fiji in the South Pacific where they, and representatives from the Seacology Foundation, officially opened the kindergarten classroom in Naikorokoro on the island of Ovalau.
The classroom was built and equipped with a computer, an educational keyboard, software with lessons suitable for youngsters, and a colour printer with funds the recyclers raised internationally, using only the Internet. In exchange for the building of their kindergarten the people of Naikorokoro signed an agreement with the Seacology Foundation (www.seacology.org) that they would protect 17 sq miles of their ancestral fishing area, states a GIS press release.
The Recyclers also visited the Levuka Public School where they presented staff with Seacology Environmental Books. JGR President Jeremy Forbes, reported on this visit:
‘There was a lack of materials and the school was so old that in many places the wood was giving way, making it dangerous to walk across campus. We went to their computer lab and found only two old computers that did not work properly. The poor departmental head was very frustrated as he had to teach computer science to examination level with students having almost no practical experience.’
Saula Vodonaivalu, the Fiji Seacology representative, took the Recyclers from the main island of Viti Levu to the extremely remote YasawaIRara, the last island in the Yasawa chain.
The journey took about eight hours by speed boat, and another two hours in two small fishing boats. The group stayed in YasawaIRara for a week, learning the culture and experiencing the sacrifices that islanders have to make to keep their island from being ruined by becoming yet another tourist destination.
Villagers recently declined a US$700,000 offer to buy one of their islands from a foreign businessman and instead signed an agreement with Seacology prohibiting development for 20 years and establishing a no-take fishing reserve on the 80 square mile area surrounding the islands for a period of 10 years.
In return, Seacology provided funds for the construction of a critically needed community centre that opened in 2003.
The centre is also home to a radio telephone which is their only communication with the outside world.
‘These people are remarkable because they suffer extreme hardships to stop their island from being taken over by foreigners.
We took cloth, T-shirts, and food to the villagers. They have no livestock because the island cannot sustain them and the villagers cannot afford to feed animals as they have problems feeding themselves,’ explained Mrs. Whitehead.
‘They have no roads and in the rainy season it is very hard to reach school. Children have to board in very poor conditions from as young as five years old. Difficulty in accessing schools, as well as the general lack of them, leaves some of the children, especially the older girls, without any education. YasawaIRara mothers also make great sacrifices for their children – they have to walk to the school laden with food that they gathered themselves, and have to stay overnight to prepare food for the children,’ explained Mrs Whitehead.
Topping this, there is also a shortage of educators, as it is difficult to stay and work under such adverse conditions, as well as being cut off from the outside world, one of the local teachers explained.
This prompted Mr Forbes to help out as a teacher during the visit, joining students on their daily journey of nine miles to and from the school.
Although the Recyclers saw great hardship, they also experienced first class hospitality with islanders treating them as family.
‘They showed us their customs, and taught us skills such as starting a fire with no match and making hats and fans from coconut fronds. We sat on the floor and worked alongside the villagers,’ said Recycler Catherine Welds.
The Fiji trip was sponsored by a $5,000 donation from the Ministry of Education, Human Resources and Culture.
‘Their commitment to preservation, as well as their willingness to help others, made them worthy recipients of our sponsorship,’ said Minister Roy Bodden.
They also received sponsorship from the Department of Environmental Health. Other sponsors, and pictures and information about the visit can be seen at www.johngrayrecyclers.org/seacology_fiji_project/