WASHING in a river and living in a corrugated iron home – an Amble woman has spoken of her eye-opening trip to a deprived village in Fiji.
But for Claire Marshall, her stay in Saukasa was a satisfying one, as she helped repair a local school, to the delight of the community.
The 22-year-old, who works for Northumberland County Council, was given a helping hand by friends Kerry McCubbin, 22, from Acklington, and Laura Stevenson, 20, from Newcastle – both studying psychology at Northumbria University – who went to Fiji with her.
The kind-hearted trio joined a group of volunteers to help out at the school, which included installing a water tank, building an incinerator, painting eight classrooms and supplying its library with new books.
And Claire, from Newburgh Street, admitted it was a worthwhile and fulfilling trip.
“The children and members of the community were so grateful for the work that was carried out,” she said.
“The village had a school – something which other villages don’t have – and they had done their best.
“But we gave it a major make-over and it looked good.
“After we were there, another two groups were going to go out there and were going to install toilets.
“It was a very worthwhile trip that just wasn’t long enough.”
As part of their visit last month, the trio stayed with a local Fijian family, where they witnessed the basic living conditions that is the norm for locals.
They also lived by the family’s customs and traditions.
Claire said: “The amenities were very basic and there were no home comforts such as showers and we had to wash in the river, although washing in the river was really good. It was really different and was refreshing.
“The house we stayed in was made of corrugated iron. It was a fair size but there wasn’t much in it.
“We all had our own beds which was really nice and there were settees.
“But they didn’t have a kitchen and they cooked outside. They had a small sink outside and they started a fire to cook the fish on.”
Speaking of some of their experiences, Claire added: “We couldn’t show our knees in the village, as that is one of their customs, so we wore a traditional Sulu while we were there.
“We also did traditional Fijian dancing, which was really interesting, and we ate a lot of rice, as well as fresh fish, which was really nice, and fruit.”
Their stay in the village was an eye-opening experience.
Claire said: “It wasn’t as deprived as other places.
“The people in the village did work and they had money for food but it was the fact that there was one toilet, with no flush, between about six families and they didn’t have a place to put their rubbish.
“It made you really appreciate what we have got back at home.”
But she said that despite the poverty, the people were happy, friendly and wanted to help with everything.
Claire said that volunteering was something that she had wanted to do for a while and she did not regret a minute of her time in Fiji.
“I would recommended it to anybody. It was an amazing experience and the people were so friendly.
“Our host family went out of their way to make us feel at home and enjoy our stay and I now feel like I have a home in Fiji.
“I will certainly be returning to see my Fijian family again and I am saving up. I would like to go back and see them.”
Claire thanked everyone, particularly the manageress of Amble’s Pier 81 and all the customers, as well as her county council colleagues, who sponsored her and donated things like raffle prizes.
Her fund-raising efforts saw her collect £1,600, which went towards the repair work and the host family.
She paid for her flights separately.