More than just fun and games at Fi­jian school

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

ONa se­cluded is­land in the South Pa­cific, a lit­tle Fi­jian boy is belt­ing out the lat­est Justin Bieber hit. ‘‘Baby, baby, baby,’’ he croons, cock­ing his head dra­mat­i­cally and flash­ing a grin at the cruise ship pas­sen­gers who have alighted from their trans­fer boat and wan­dered into his vil­lage.

The vis­i­tors are be­mused by this un­ex­pected dis­play of pop cul­ture on the tiny is­land of Wayasewa, cush­ioned within the deep turquoise waters of the Ya­sawa ar­chi­pel­ago off the main Fi­jian is­land of Viti Levu.

But iso­la­tion is no bar­rier to progress for the Justin Bieber im­per­son­ator and his friends, all of whom are stu­dents at the is­land’s Na­mara Vil­lage School. De­spite their re­liance on an er­ratic gen­er­a­tor and their se­verely lim­ited ac­cess to fresh wa­ter, the 81 stu­dents here are al­ready ac­com­plished. They re­cite verses in per­fect English, find vis­i­tors’ coun­tries and home cities on a world map and tend their school’s fa­cil­i­ties with un­re­strained pride.

‘‘At 3pm one of the kids will get the task of beat­ing the lali [Fi­jian drum] and that’s the call to chores,’’ says head­mas­ter Jope Leano. Lit­ter is dis­posed of, li­braries are ti­died, toi­lets are scrubbed. The scene is of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance for one visi­tor, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Cap­tain Cook Cruises, Jackie Charlton.

For the past nine years Charlton’s Syd­ney-based com­pany has part­nered with schools from the vil­lages in­cluded on its Fi­jian itin­er­ar­ies, ei­ther fund­ing projects di­rectly or en­ter­ing into joint ven­tures with the lo­cals. Both mod­els are sup­ple­mented with con­tri­bu­tions from cruise pas­sen­gers.

Hun­dreds of projects have been com­pleted: the con­struc­tion of li­braries, dor­mi­to­ries and class­rooms, the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter tanks, sta­tionery, books and com­put­ers. And af­ter all-too-fre­quent cy­clones, dam­aged gen­er­a­tors, build­ings and wa­ter tanks have been re­paired with ma­te­ri­als brought in on Cap­tain Cook’s ship, the MV Reef En­deav­our.

‘ ‘ The re­ward of see­ing the schools we have helped build and know­ing the chil­dren now have the re­sources to do well is one of the ben­e­fits of be­com­ing so­cially in­volved,’’ Charlton says.

But com­mu­nity well­be­ing is de­pen­dent on more than j ust school­ing, and the com­pany pro­vides a con­duit for pas­sen­gers who wish to lend a hand to the peo­ple they en­counter on their trav­els. Re­cently they con­trib­uted to Cap­tain Cook’s fundrais­ing drive for a boy who needed to travel to the US for surgery.

‘‘We found that peo­ple wanted to do [some­thing help­ful],’’Charlton says. ‘‘I think peo­ple have a more phil­an­thropic out­look now. Mass me­dia has helped with that’’

Clearly, the me­dia has also helped the chil­dren, draw­ing them into the global vil­lage and in­spir­ing them to em­u­late more than j ust the lyrics of a Justin Bieber tune: af­ter Year 8, ea­ger stu­dents sit a test that de­ter­mines whether they can go to high school on the main­land.



Na­mara Vil­lage stu­dents

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