Friday, June 15, 2012

Till We Meet Again

I've been trying to think of a way to adequately explain what has happened over the last two weeks without going into more detail that is appropriate for a blog setting, so here goes nothing.

On Monday, June 4th, there was an "incident", as HELP International has chosen to call it. One of my nearest and dearest friends on the trip with me was attacked by 3 Fijian men while walking home alone from the internet cafe just a few minutes walk from our house. Although there are lots of little details associated with exactly how and what happened, I don't feel entirely comfortable sharing those. A fellow participant and their mother made the decision to go to abc news in Salt Lake, Utah, and talk to them about what happened. A few stories (although with some minor inaccuracies) were released, so I'll post the links to the first one that came about. If you'd care to hear more detail, feel free to check here:

There are a few more articles on that website that should be easy to link to, as well as an article on the Deseret News and KSL. You should be able to find those via Google.

Well the next couple of days after the attack are a large blur, we moved houses (more to come about that situation) and tried to get back to our projects when we had the time between the move. My friend who was attacked returned home safely within the week. I miss her and love her so much.

We had to move out of our house the Tuesday following the attack, but did not have anywhere to move to. The bishop, his wife, and a few of the guys from our local ward at church showed up to help us move all of our belongings into the nursery of the church. That night we stayed at a local place called the SeaBreeze Hotel. Never in my life did I imagine that I would be so thrilled by a real mattress and air conditioning! I was legitimately excited to be in the hotel, even though it was so different than hotels that I'm used to. To sum it up without a picture, I've stayed in a Motel 6 that quite possibly outshines the good ole SeaBreeze.

The next morning, we woke up to the news that another one of the volunteers had fallen out of a tree earlier that morning while watching the sunrise. Not going to lie- none of us could even comprehend that one. We nervous laughed and looked confused while we heard that story. She is slowly but surely recovering and will be returning home soon.

The FBI arrived in Lautoka that day to investigate the case, so HELP International asked us to head to another part of the island for the day. We went to VoliVoli Beach Resort in RakiRaki, which I've blogged about a bit before. It was nice to take a day to relax a bit, as we were all quite shaken by the last couple of days. We slept there for the night, and the next day woke up and headed back to Lautoka. Perhaps not so surprisingly, we were still homeless that night. Guess where we slept? The church! The bishop and his wife were so incredibly kind to us. They showed up to the church to help us drag beds into the primary room that we'd call home for the night. We were able to set up shop there, and I was very grateful to have lots of time that day to speak with my parents and discuss the current situation. The following day we were able to find a house in Lautoka and move in immediately, once again with the incredible help of the bishop, his wife, and some of the men in the ward. I am certain that without the help and love of the bishop and other church members, we as a group would not have gotten through everything as well as we did.

The US Embassy and HELP International feel that it is safe for the volunteers to be in Fiji, however the BYU International Security office does not agree and asked their matriculated interns to return home. Because I was not an official intern, I was left to make my own decision in regards to staying or leaving. I spent more time in prayer during that last week than I had spent praying in a long time. Although it is sad to say that it was because of the situation I was in, it was such a great feeling to be closer to the spirit again. After very careful consideration of all of the facts, as well as my feelings and promptings, my parents and I agreed that it would be best for me to return home. I was and am heartbroken to have left Fiji, my projects, my friends, and the incredible life I was leading there. Through all of this, I keep praying that this is one of those situations where God closes a door, but opens a window. That being said, I am comfortable with my decision to have returned home and look forward to being able to continue my projects from the United States.

This is where you come in! As you know, I had been working with the Sunshine Special School in Lautoka, Fiji. They are lacking the materials that they need to teach their students how to read, and I would love to change that. I'll be working for the next couple of months to write letters to companies and libraries and hopefully find those who would be willing to donate supplies and books to this school. If you are someone, or know someone, or even someone who knows someone who knows someone who would be interested in helping, PLEASE let me know! I will be figuring out the exact details this next week in terms of what specifically I'd be looking for, and will let you know then.

Until that post comes, your thoughts and prayers for those who have suffered because of this situation would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Friday, June 1, 2012

C'est la Vie!

Bula! So I think this week I'll organize things into my top 4 most interesting/exciting/heartbreaking/generally-noteworthy moments. I recognize that 4 is a weird number to choose.. I started with 10 but I wrote more than I was expecting to so I kept it at 4. Y'welcome.

1. I finally got started on my literacy project with the Sunshine Special School. On Monday I went with Candice to visit the school and gather more information to begin my project. They gave me a list of all of the students enrolled, with the name of their disability listed next to it. We were shocked to see the different reasons the children are considered "special." Probably the most shocking disability listed is ADHD... undiagnosed. Parents can pretty much decide that their children are too hyper for normal school, and sign them up for this school! After visiting a couple of the classrooms we noticed that one of the little boys is in the school because of juvenile arthritis. He does not struggle academically---he's 2 full grade levels above his class mates---but they still feel that he requires this attention. It was heartbreaking to see him surrounded by peers with more extreme learning disabilities.

I am really excited to get started on this project. The children at the school are so sweet and tender. They are so shy and excited to see us! One of my favorite part is the way they look down and blush and giggle when I say hi to them. I really cannot wait until they know my name and are more comfortable talking with me! I will be working with kids with 3 different issues: reading/comprehension, phonics, and blending. I'll be taking the kids in pairs, and sometimes individually, and workings with them in 30 minute blocks on whatever their struggle is. I've struggled a lot  with feeling like I am qualified to work with these kids, but after talking with Shelley about it she said something that I've decided I need to make my mantra for the project. She said that the biggest thing to remember is to love the kids, because chances are they won't learn everything they could possibly need to know from me. So if the best I do is love them and make an ounce of improvement, it was a success! It was such a helpful thought to realize that although I may not sky rocket their reading abilities, I will make a change in their lives.

2. I organized the library at the Sunshine Special School! For the second half of this week I didn't have an excess of work, so I noticed after touring the school that the library could use some help. I spent Wednesday and Thursday going through the books and putting them where they belonged. It was nice to see the space become more clear and organized, and I had the best time reading some of my favorite books (special shout out to one of my favs- Boney Legs)! I couldn't help but think about my days at good ole Patton, and the fab library there. One of my favorite times at school was our bi-weekly library trip! I loved wandering a few rows over to the advanced books and imagining the day that I could pick any book in the whole dang place and read it. I never realized how lucky I was to be at a school with rows of books, and teachers who had the resources and time to help every child read. The Sunshine Special School library consists of one wall- 4 shelves divided into 3 sections. And each shelf is about 3/4 full. I'm hoping to start a book drive of some sort for their school so that these kids can have more books. It's an overwhelming idea when I think about how much work it will entail, but one wall of books just does not cut it for a school full of children---it's probably a great indicator of the literacy levels of the school.

3. They found the cord for the piano at church! They have an electronic piano, the same one that is in the Relief Society room at home, in their chapel, but they haven't been able to find the cord pretty much since they got it, which I'm pretty sure is around 5 years ago. Once they found out that I can play, they set out to find a cord to replace it... and stumbled across an old radio cord that fits. It officially plugs in and works, so, naturally, I was the ward pianist on Sunday! There is a great picture that one of the girls took of me when I was playing...there were kids all around me! They stood and stared and stared and stared up until the meeting started and the moms told them to sit down. And even then, during each hymn I had at least one munchkin getting as close as they could to stare. They had a good time flipping the page to any page in the book for my prelude and seeing if I could play it, and every single child requested I Am A Child of God at least once. One of the most tender moments happened when one of the older boys (around age 9... they're always the most embarrassed to be seen talking to the white girls) stood right next to me so that his whole body was pressing up against mine and was quietly singing the song I was playing at the time. I couldn't stop myself from tearing up listening to him almost breathe out the words to I Stand All Amazed. I'm so blessed to play the piano. I feel like I spend so much time at home complaining about having to play, but it was beautiful to get a chance to think about how wonderful music is, and how lucky I have been to take lessons and be able to play at the drop of a hat for anyone who needs it.

Just a quick little story about music at church on Sunday. Last week the Bishop asked if we would be willing to do the special number during Sacrament meeting this last Sunday that we just had and of course we said yes! We practiced on Saturday afternoon and evening to sing A Child's Prayer. It was simple and we didn't put too much time into it, but we were totally excited. The Bishop announced the program for the day and for the special number he announced the primary choir would be singing..... they forgot about us. Womp Womp. So we're singing next week. Also they asked me to speak... yikes.

4. I finally got a new mattress!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No, that many exclamation points does not cover my excitement.  Allow me to explain the bed situation here. The beds are all bunk beds. Pure wood, and the support for the actual mattress is wood slats. Of all different shapes and sizes. The mattress is foam. As in a 3 inch foam slab... nothing else. Just a little foam hunk. I'm guessing you can figure out how LUXURIOUS the beds are after pressing a 3 inch foam mat into wood slats every night. I feel like I can lay on my back and figure out every single bump and grain of the wood using my back skin through the foam, it's that uncomfortable. So... Nikki and I splurged on Thursday and got mattresses. Granted they're still foam slabs, but we sprung for the 5-ish inch pads that we stacked on top of the 3 inch ones, that will function as more of a filler for the spaces between the wood. I slept like a rock last night! Also, we went to this restaurant in town called BBQ Chicken before our mattress extravaganza... it was divine. I had chicken without bones in it for the first time since I got here! WOO! Oh, and one last note that I'll tack on as an addendum to number four... we're obsessed with The Vampire Diaries. We watch about 2 episodes a night... 3 if it leaves us on a really intense cliff hanger after 2 episodes. It's so fun to all sit down after dinner and chores and watch them!

I think if you had told me a few months ago that I would be living in Fiji, excited about foam mattresses and chicken without bones and spending my free moments pondering ways to bring more books into the library of a special education school, I would not have believed you. But alas, here I am. And I'm LOVING it. C'est la vie!