Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Vinaka Fiji Marks 5 Years of Helping in the Yasawas

In August of this year, Vinaka Fiji celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Set up by the founders of South Sea Cruises and Awesome Adventures Fiji, we run a ‘volun-tourism’ program where holidaymakers give their time and expertise, and raise funds to provide for basic needs and amenities in the Yasawas.

The Yasawa Islands are home to 22 resorts, from luxury to backpacker, which are linked to Port Denarau with South Seas Cruises’ high-speed Yasawa Flyer catamaran and packaged by Awesome Adventures Fiji.

At its inception in 2010, Vinaka Fiji’s Chairman and co-founder of South Sea Cruises and Awesome Adventures Fiji, Roger Dold, said “our commitment is to assist Yasawa communities to become fully sustainable and self-supporting”.

Five years on Vinaka Fiji has achieved much to celebrate.

On one hand, there is the constant flow of volunteers that come to holiday and get involved in helping make a difference in a village near their resort.

Then there is the fundraising arm of the Trust which helps to bring about works on major projects in partnership with the likes of the United Nations Development program, the Fiji community, a range of government and non-government agencies, and the Fiji Government.

Part of walking the fundraising talk for Awesome Adventures Fiji is its direct donation to Vinaka Fiji of FJD$10 for every Bula Pass and accommodations package of four days and more that it sells.
Vinaka Fiji Operations Manager Elenoa Nimacere says “we all have a common goal: to assist our local communities”.

She says, to date the Vinaka Fiji children, schools and education program has brought competency in reading and writing in English to literally hundreds of island school children.

“Their teachers are volunteer retirees with time and expertise on their hands, late teens marking their gap year between studies by travelling the world volunteering, and a few visiting travel journalists who get a kick out of being word smiths teaching young Fijians their words.”

The education program also assists older pupils and with adult education, including agricultural and marine studies, as well as working closely with the Fiji Department of Education to improve school buildings and education materials.

Ms Nimacere says a dire reality of life for villagers in the Yasawas is that most do not have a reliable supply of fresh water. “Addressing this a major focus for our Vinaka Fiji creating sustainable communities program. Many of the existing wells and some of the rainwater tanks are contaminated with viruses and bacteria and rain water harvesting is not sustainable during the dry season,” she says.
“As a result of using contaminated water, there is a high incidence of poor health, infant mortality and a lower life expectancy. Our people also lack sustainable sources of income due to the water shortage.”

To date, Vinaka Fiji and its partners have installed 28 new water systems to achieve over 200,000 litres of new drinking water capacity in six villages, carried out improvements and repairs of existing tanks to create an additional 250,000 litres in capacity and brought together villagers, youth groups and volunteers to work on water programs, all of which has led to a greater awareness of the importance of water conservation.

At this time Vinaka Fiji is campaigning to raise FJD$66,000 to help set up water supplies and electricity for seven villages in the Naviti District of the Yasawas.

In another initiative Vinaka Fiji is part of a cooperative effort to establish a food bank to ensure remote communities have better emergency food supplies in times of disaster, even if their crops are destroyed.

Warm tropical waters, stunning reefs, over 1,500 species of marine life… there are good reasons for volunteering visitors to get involved in the Vinaka Fiji marine research and conservation program.

Many volunteers take the opportunity to learn to scuba dive or extend their skills by taking part in marine work, much of which takes place in – or under – the warm, turquoise waters lapping the islands.

Recent marine achievements, in partnership with the Yasawa community and other groups such as Rotary, include manta ray research, removing the devastating crown of thorns starfish, helping out in the coral and clam nursery, tracking new and existing species, mapping and analysing the composition of the reef and its health, and assisting with educational programs to teach sustainable reef practices.