Friday, October 11, 2013

Fiji 2013 | Kiobo spirit, revisited

For the past several years, the New England Aquarium has participated in a joint expedition to Fiji, along with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other conservation-minded groups and individuals. The last expedition took place in Spring 2012

Today's post and pictures about the visit to the Kiobo village during the joint aquarium Fiji expedition comes from Aquarium supporter Bruce Thayer.

It started with an intrepid little Fijian girl, willing to accept my yoga challenge.

The prior New England Aquarium/Monterey Bay Aquarium Joint Aquarium Expedition in 2012 visited the village of Kiobo (pronounced kee um bow) for the second time. I had the idea that it would be great fun to do yoga with the kids.  As it turns out everyone thought it was a great idea—mostly to watch and giggle—except Di, who jumped right in with panache and the cutest smile too big for her small face.

Di’s singular spirit was the inspiration for a series of scholarships to assist families with their school fees. With huge help from the NAI’A Office, Dr. Stacy Jupiter of WCS, and the Coral Reef Alliance, children were selected and a three year funding plan was established; and that was the last I knew of the program. Until yesterday.

Our group once more waded into Kiobo at low tide, where we were greeted warmly by villagers. Chief Vuka invited us to sit on an ibe (pronounced im bay), a large exquisitely woven palm frond mat for the traditional meke (pronounced meck kay), the welcoming ceremony. His spokesperson greeted us like returning village relatives referring to our past visits, while others prepared the kava drink with great fanfare. Coconut shells filled to the brim were offered and we accepted. Soon school aged children began to arrive from the primary school, a 15 minute walk through the woods.

I immediately spotted Di, her smile completely giving her away. She is quite shy and rarely spoke to me directly except with impossible dark shining eyes. I also re-met Paul and Luciana, who had also just returned from school. Soon we were all doing Warrior One yoga pose, along with other children who had jumped in.

Though this village was recently declared below the poverty line for Fiji, I do not view them as deprived. Their family, the village’s values, and their connection with the earth and sea give them abundance that many would envy. Still, there is a Fijian saying that dies hard: “Learning your ABCs and 123s and signing your name is all you need.” Bright children like Paul, Luciana, and Di should have and deserve more. For those children who learn how to learn, their future is large.

I was happy to meet the teachers from the school, and one of them walked me to see it with Di leading the way. The rooms are sparse by US standards but the teachers were reluctant to identify what resources they most needed. This school has one empty room—the school library. I am looking for the best way to address that.

I was able to meet two of the children’s parents, and as I left a note of thanks was tucked into my hand. Tiny lives dance with fragility and resilience. It is a privilege for any opportunity to honor that dance. Those shining eyes pierced my heart over and over, yet I leave even more impressed that the entire village of Kiobo expressed joy for the scholarship support of only three children. That joy speaks volumes. Poverty indeed.

Stay tuned to this blog to follow the team as they dive to collect data on the health of the coral reefspick up trash where they find it, check in with the villagers to see how some conservation initiatives are faring and further develop connections with the people that live on these beautiful Pacific islands.  

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