At As You Wish Pottery, we consistently uphold our core value of Giving Back. Recently, we sponsored Ella Hanks’s humanitarian trip to Fiji. Here is a guest post written by her, describing her experience and a few photos to share as well!
Bula!! (that is Fijian for hello) I want to start out saying how grateful I am for As You Wish Pottery for sponsoring me and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. I am Ella and I just recently returned from a 17 day humanitarian trip to Fiji. I really could not have asked for a better opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and serve others. Going to Fiji and helping the people there was AMAZING!! We spent lots of time working hard, but we also got to learn about another culture and life that is different from our own. I got the chance to be pushed physically, grow emotionally and spiritually and learn to love all.
A typical day in Fiji was a wild ride of constant moving pieces. We kept to a strict schedule and were constantly on the move, ensuring there was never a dull moment. We started each day with personal scripture studies, and were lucky enough to do those on the beach a few times. Typically we would have meals down the street from the dorm room style hostels we were living in. We would then grab our hard hats and gloves and catch the bus (which the bus rides were some of the most fun as we hyped up for the day) to spend the majority of the work day on the sites. During our lunch breaks it was a race to get done eating so we could catch a nap on the hard floor before heading back to the worksite. We always tried to hit the beach for a quick rinse off and dinner and then it was off to my favorite part of the day, which was our evening activities.
We had cultural events and tried local favorite foods and activities with the children, families and village elders or with the youth and members of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint congregation. As for the weekends we would go sightseeing or do team bonding. During those times we were able to net fish, swim with sharks, learn local folk songs, hike to the highest point on the island, Zip line, visit cannibal cave (yes, you read that right), and take mud baths at the local hot springs. Our days were jam-packed with activities that helped us to connect and learn from the Fijian people.
Amazing, kind, loving, giving… I could go on. That’s what I have to say about the Fijian people and their culture. They are absolutely the kindest, most loving people I have ever been around. When you are on the street, regardless if they know you or not, they wave and say hello. They are constantly smiling and offering you anything they have. Most of the villages consist of shacks or very small homes that the people live in. They do not have running water or really any of the luxuries we have living here in America. If you met them on the street you would never know their situation, they welcome you into their lives and never have anything bad to say.
The first weekend we were in the country, we spent it on a smaller island where we were able to visit a village and they taught us all about their culture. In most of the villages in Fiji it is improper for females to wear pants or shorts, instead they must always be in skirts or sarongs. They also do not have chairs or couches, they sit on mats on the floor and it is improper to sit any other way than criss-crossed. They have a culture of giving so much so that even though they have nothing and live in little shacks they will always invite you into their home for tea or lemonade and cookies or whatever other treat they whipped up. Each of them carry this energy that makes you never want to leave and that makes you comfortable enough to consider them family. One of my favorite people that I met there was Tess, she was our trip coordinator from Fiji, there were so many times that we wished she could just stay with us forever. She invited all of us to her home on multiple occasions and made sure we knew that if we were ever to come back we would have a place to stay. Words really cannot express how amazing the people and culture of Fiji was.
Wow, I also really just love my group that I met on day one and traveled with, they are amazing. I know for a fact that I have made lifelong friends with many in my group. We had 19 builders along with trip leaders, Luke and Lauren, and two parent helpers. I seriously could not have asked for a better group of people. We learned to lean on each other and grew together as we spent time laughing, crying, working, complaining, hanging out, and telling jokes too. Each of these people were all in the same spot I was, far from home experiencing new things and were able to rely on each other. I am especially grateful for Luke who shows the most Christ-like love and Lauren who always knew just what to say and had advice on everything. The first weekend we were there we focused on bonding with each other and making connections and it totally pulled off, by day three we were all best friends. I learned so much from each of them and I wouldn’t want to experience it with anyone else.
Now to get to the important part. What were we really doing in Fiji? We were building community bathrooms! When I signed up for this trip we were supposed to be working on a health clinic and I was thrilled to help the community. They then switched our group project to building bathrooms which at first I was unsure about but I quickly realized was a huge blessing. First of all, that’s what the people really needed. Although some villages have a community toilet most villages do not and many that live in the village do not have a bathroom near their homes. Second, we were able to see the work all the way through. It was an amazing experience to see the process and work on the bathroom from start to finish and felt like such an accomplishment. We were able to provide the Sabeto village with five fully functioning bathrooms. It was awesome! Don’t get me wrong it was extremely hard work resulting in lots of sore muscles and exhaustion, and I for one learned that I do not like digging septic tanks. But overall it was so worth it, the satisfaction of knowing we provided these people that we have grown to love with something that will change their lives for years to come. I truly do not think I could have made it through those long workdays if I didn’t have the awesome group and support system that I had there. I am so grateful for them and the opportunity to make such great friends.
Holy Cow. How has this experience helped me to learn and grow? The easier question would probably be: what didn’t help me? This trip taught me about what it means to truly serve others and show Christ-like love. It also taught me the importance of relationships and truly connecting with the people around you. While talking to the village elders I learned about endurance and following what you believe in, how not to let the people around you dictate your feelings or actions. I relearned the importance of family and communicating with the people you love. I learned how to quickly build lasting relationships and impact others. These are just a few of the things that I felt the most strongly on the trip but I could go on for hours about what this trip and these people taught me and how much it all means to me. Sometimes in the mornings they would give us questions to ponder for the day and write about in our journals and one of the questions was “what is something you want to take away from your time with the Fijian people?” I thought about that question for a while but the answer was quite simple: their attitude. They have an attitude of gratitude and of giving along with a kindness unmatched anywhere else. That, to me, was the most important thing that I could take back home and use in my daily life.
Once again I am so grateful for As You Wish Pottery for providing me with this opportunity to not only change other people’s lives but to change mine as well. -Ella Hanks-