More than just fun and games at Fijian school
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