Ever felt a teensy bit guilty about the sea, sand and palm tree holiday that you are luxuriating in and how little of your spending is going back into the local community?
If so, you will be happy to hear that increasingly there is the choice to have a fabulous holiday whilst also supporting local life. Slowly but surely there are initiatives that are working hard to make a difference to the lives of locals while still providing quality experiences for tourists.
Due to its gorgeous tropical climate and proximity to New Zealand, Fiji is often the go to country of choice for a long weekend away or an extended break.
In the hills above Lautoka (Vita Levu) you will find the HQ of FRIEND Fiji (Foundation for Rural Integrated Enterprises & Development). FRIEND was set up in 2001 by passionate journalist turned community development worker Sashi Kiranworks. FRIEND works within communities helping people to gain knowledge, skills and resources that will enable them to break out of the poverty cycle. Some of these people are impaired or need a second chance at life while others require knowledge and skills to assist them to run sustainable (organic) and viable farms.
Many of the women were already making delicious chutneys and preserves with their local produce with no avenue to release these into the market. FRIEND has provided a commercial grade kitchen, shop and newly opened café where they sell and use The FRIEND Fiji Style® range of products (pickles, chutneys, jams, herbal teas and spices) made from local products (think tamarind, mango and coconut) as well as handmade cards and craft products. Our visit to FRIEND is just before the café opens and we get to taste some of the trial dishes with accompanying condiments. The flavours are big bold and so very good. The coconut and spice infused tamarind chutney is a favourite as is the mango relish.
Visitors to Friend are encouraged and the products purchased (aside from honey) make lovely gifts to bring back to New Zealand.
FRIEND products are also available in Proud Duty Free stores.
Still on Vita Levu but along the Coral Coast (near Sigatoka) is the international Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort.
Yes, an international hotel chain but one that is also dedicated to their local community. Under the guidance of their energetic and enthusiastic GM Peter Hopgood, Outrigger always has at least one community project on the go. Every month one of the departments at Outrigger (think bar, restaurant, housekeeping, front of house etc.…) undertakes a community project by providing support and assistance to local schools, hospitals, orphanages and other charities. The resort was involved in funding the maternity ward at Sigatoka Hospital – I am just thankful that there wasn’t anyone in the throes of giving birth as we freely strolled through the facilities.
Our visit does coincide with a team of 18 BMI eye specialists from the USA who spend a week at Sigatoka hospital each year providing free eye testing and treatment for locals. They work tirelessly on a voluntary basis and see well over 600 pre-booked patients during their week’s stay.
Each year Outrigger provide free accommodation to the team and also includes some evening entertainment. At their final night drinks and canapes, eyes are moist as goodbyes are said and thank yous given while across the lagoon the sun set provides a picturesque background.
A constant project of Outrigger is the support of Conua District School and Kindergarten. Our visit to the school is greeted with enormous smiles from super happy kids who now have a fenced secure play area, a new library, new kindergarten (the roof leaked on the old one) and this year there are two new classrooms being built.
The new classrooms are a direct response to the increased roll which in turn comes from the school now being a special feature in the community. Sitting in a prominent place within the kindergarten I notice toothbrushes with toothpaste for each child, confirming that often education needs to cover more than pens and paper.
Resort guests are able by prior arrangement to get involved in these projects, either assisting on building sites or by offering other skills as may be needed at the time.
As well as community work Outrigger also has a staff rugby team, rugby league team, volleyball teams, netball teams, cheer squad and a spine tingling talented choir.
Holidays are just that much better when you know there is a feel-good factor attached to it!
I am sure there are plenty more tales like this to share and I would love to read any of your experiences.
Helen travelled as a guest of Tourism Fiji and Outrigger Resort and Spa.