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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Learning Life Lessons in Fiji

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It takes a long time to get from Haiti to the Fiji Islands. My trip began in Port-au-Prince, included one day in Ft. Lauderdale, a five hour plane ride from MIA to LAX, then a 10 hour plane ride from LAX to Nadi, the location of the international airport of Fiji. This was followed by a 3 hour taxi ride to the capital, Suva, where I met my parents and spent one day buying some spear-fishing equipment. Next was a 25 minute plane ride on a twin-engine, eight-passenger, BN2A Islander. The final leg of my arrival took the form of a 20-foot fiberglass boat with a leak in the front that swept us the last 30 minutes from the Gau airport to the village of VadraVadra, a secluded slice of heaven in the South Pacific consisting of 300 men, women, and children: my second home since the age of 18. (You can find Gau on Google Earth if you are interested).

My travels have taken me to 6 continents of the world. Without a doubt, the people of Fiji are the friendliest and most community oriented that I have ever met. It is a country where neighbors take care of neighbors, strangers are your friends, and the family unit is the most important factor in life. Despite the modern world rising around it, much of Fiji has been able to retain the culture and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation: this is even truer in the outer islands and villages. When I chose to grow my hair out in memory of Kama’s passing, it wasn’t only to honor him, but it was also to honor the village and community from which he had risen. The 7 days I spent in the village this trip was one of mixed emotion. There was sadness in knowing that one-year had already passed since Kama’s tragic death, but there was also consolation in the fact that the village, the community, Niu and his family, had found the strength to continue living their lives, keeping Kama always alive in memory, but also continuing with the upbringing of his brother Save, and continued duties to the village and community. In a way, the cutting of my hair was a release, not only for myself, but for Niu, his family, and my family, that it was OK to let go of the grief and sadness, and time to embrace the future, while always keeping Kama in a special place in our heart.

To my surprise, after the hair cutting ceremony, the village held a community wide dinner to congratulate my graduation from Vanderbilt University with my Doctorate in Education. The feast began with a speech from one of the elders, who graciously said, “We are proud to have Steven Kirby, to be the first son of VadraVadra to earn his Doctorate.” As I looked around the room and saw the faces of the men, women, and children that I have known since the age of 18, for the past 11 years, I conceded that this might be the last time I step foot in this village for a long time.

You see, I didn’t provide you with a detailed explanation of the lengthy travel required to reach my village in Fiji for no reason. Distance is the reason that I may not be back to Fiji for the next three years. The next phase of my life is dedicated to the children of Haiti. For the next three years I want to take H.E.R.O. from housing 5 children to housing over 30. I want to create a residence for orphans in the next three years that isn’t simply a place to house children, but is a bastion of excellence for education, healthy, emotional and physical success. Perhaps after three years, after I am well on my way to making a difference in the lives of street children and orphans in Haiti, maybe then I can return to Fiji. I want to bring the idea of neighbor helping neighbor, of strangers being your friends, and the family being the most important factor in life to H.E.R.O.’s residence for orphans, to the children we serve, to play a small part in the recovery of a beautiful country that we call Haiti. I hope that you join me in this endeavor, because I can’t do it alone. Let’s work together, as a community, as friends of strangers, and as neighbors, to make a difference in the lives of others. “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

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