The GVI National Scholarship Programme provided me with the opportunity of a lifetime that will be embedded in my memory forever. I had no idea of GVI whatsoever but came to know of it later when I met Elizabeth at a Turtle Conservation Workshop and then Dr. Susanna Piovano offering me an opportunity to join volunteers on a tiny island somewhere in the Lomaiviti Group.
I received the message on the hilltop of Makogai Island trying to get phone reception and jumped of joy when I learnt that I was going to learn how to dive, survey, volunteer amongst other things with a group of volunteers from all over the globe. The excitement was overwhelming and I was quite fortunate to be the first local included in the programme.
Experience on Caqalai Island
Arriving on the island without any expectations was worth it because all that I was provided with was satisfying on all levels. The accommodation was cool and the food was thrilling (I had pasta for the first time on the island). There was something new to learn every day.
We were divided into groups and allocated duties that were rotated every day. Duties included galley, grounds, waste, dive shed and a day off. This allocation brought about togetherness and companionship among the members and it was beautiful since I was the only local with the rest of the volunteers who I now call friends were from different parts of the world.
I learnt diving and earned my open water and advanced open water qualifications together with other learners on the programme during my time there namely Hannah of New Zealand, Andy of Australia, Victoria of England and Jens and Jakob of Denmark. Our dive instructor, Clare Brown was patient and willing to teach all that we needed to know in order to become good divers. We also learnt how to survey reefs while I also completed my Emergency First Response with the help of Jay. We had formed a close knit bond during our two months together on the island and I am glad I have made good friends.
Not only were we taught how to dive but since it was a Marine Conservation Base, we also had to learn invertebrates, fish and benthics that are found on the reef. These lessons definitely enhanced my knowledge of invertebrate identification. Sadly, I did not have enough time to learn fish but I am glad I learnt a lot while on the island. Reef surveys provided me with the skill and experience that I would definitely use in the future.
Apart from academic and diving, volunteering in schools was a huge aspect of my experience there. We went to the local schools on Moturiki island and took 2 hours classes with the students teaching them subjects of concern such as healthy living, oral health, cleanliness and many more.
Contributions to my Academic Career
All that I have learnt during my 2 months on the island has definitely provided me with the skills needed and the experience that I would be making use of in my academic as well as working career. As of now, I am a Research Assistant at the University of the South Pacific, a position offered by Dr. Sussana Piovano upon my return from the island. I am required to help out in the researches that she will be carrying out at the University. GVI definitely helped shape my skills in data collection, and diving qualifications is definitely an added bonus. All the training offered will definitely help me achieve what I aim to achieve in reaching the peak of my academic career. In summary, I learnt how to dive, collect data important for conservation and interacting and sharing ideas with the community. I would love to learn some more but unfortunately, all good things must come an end.
Fun dives were awesome and meeting turtles and white tip sharks were amazing. Seeing the humpback whale was breath-taking. The island games and the volleyball sessions were epic but most of all, sitting around the tanoa at the end of the day and chilling with friends who I have come to call family.
My 2 months on Caqalai island were definitely one of the best moments of my life and I thank GVI for providing me with the opportunity of a lifetime.
If I had the chance, I would definitely do it all over again.