Fiji is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I can say that with absolute certainty because I've seen the colorful reefs through clear turquoise waters. I've wandered barefoot across soft white sand and swung lazily in a hammock under the warm sun with a cold cocktail in hand. I've experienced the genuine friendliness of the Fijian people, who despite not having much by Western standards, are some of the happiest people on earth. But beyond the luxury resorts and cheerful smiles is a country that is still in need of so much.
I'm not saying don't enjoy that cocktail. Fijian resorts are amazing, and you shouldn't feel guilty about enjoying your hard-earned vacation here. But it's important to remember when you're traveling to developing countries that just the act of traveling there doesn't always help the country in a positive way. Many resorts cause damage to the environment just by being built. Often, money spent on expat-owned businesses doesn't stay in the country. There's also a huge pay gap between expats and locals, which becomes an issue when prices rise due to tourist demand.
While acknowledging those things as a reality is important, it shouldn't discourage you from taking a holiday to Fiji. In fact, there are several things you can do during your time here that can make a positive impact. Keep reading to find out five great ways you can give back to this beautiful South Pacific country!
Pack to help
Though most Fijian villagers are very happy and don't consider themselves to be living in poverty, it is not a wealthy country and many villages are in need of things like medical and school supplies. The wonderful organization Pack For A Purpose works with four hotels in Fiji to provide needed items to nearby villages - check out their website for lists of the things they're most in need of.
You can also contact your hotel or tour company in advance to see if they help support any local villages. Some activities, like the Ecotrax railway tour in Sigatoka, encourage guests to bring items for the children in the villages they pass through.
Keep in mind that some items are better than others - bandaids and pencil crayons are always welcome while candy is discouraged due to a lack of access to proper dental care, as well as Fiji's high level of diabetes.
Help the animals
Sadly, a lot of the many stray animals in Fiji get mistreated. It's common for dogs to be hit by cars and left to suffer at the side of the road; the SPCA has recorded that they respond to an average of 15 animal hit-and-run cases per month in Suva. Other acts of violence are not uncommon - just last week a friend of ours found her cat hacked up on a morning walk; another friend recently took in a dog who had boiling water thrown on his face. Poisoning also happens frequently by people who see stray animals as a pest, causing animals to suffer for about a week before they die.
There are many shelters in Fiji that try to help by taking animals off the street and putting them up for adoption, as well as providing essential services like de-sexing and vaccinations. However, these organizations are run on donations, and are always in desperate need of support.
Animals Fiji, a Nadi-based animal shelter and clinic, offers visitors a chance to tour their shelter and spend some time playing with the animals. The cost of this 2-hour tour goes towards the operation of the shelter and includes return transport; further details can be found on their website.
Buy Fijian-made products
Though the country's main source of income is through tourism, many businesses in the tourism industry are owned by foreigners, and while many of these companies still make an effort to give back to the local economy, it's good to directly invest in Fijian products and services wherever you can.
When buying souvenirs, try to look for the "Fijian Made" symbol, which businesses need to fit a certain criteria to be able to use. Local markets, like the once-monthly Vuda Beach Market, are also great places to look for unique gifts to bring home.
Companies such as Vanua Chocolate and Bula Coffee offer products that not only support local businesses, but also help the efforts of agricultural industries within the country, such as cacao and coffee farming. Locally brewed Vonu Beer uses some of its profits to support the Mamanuca Environmental Society's efforts to protect endangered sea turtles.
Respect the reefs
Fiji has some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, and you should absolutely take the chance to go out and enjoy it, but remember to keep some distance. Touching, and especially stepping on the coral reefs can destroy them, as well as injure you. The same goes for fish, turtles and any other sea life you encounter. Taking shells and coral from the beach can disrupt the ecosystem and may also be illegal, so it’s best to avoid it.
The sun is strong in Fiji and you'll likely be reapplying sunblock a lot, so try to invest in a good reef-safe sunscreen. While it's not hard to find sunscreen here, options are limited so it might be best to buy sunscreen before your trip. If you're not sure what to look for in a reef-safe lotion, check out this useful guide.
Visit a local village
When I first arrived in Fiji, I was wary of doing a village tour because I was worried they were too exploitative. But the Fijians are extremely welcoming people and many villages rely on the tourism industry. A village visit is an enjoyable way to experience Fijian life and culture, and can be humbling to those of us from wealthier countries.
When you visit, you can bring gifts for the children, or donate needed supplies to the village if you wish to do so. It's a good idea to contact the tour provider in advance to see what they recommend bringing. Also make sure to bring cash in Fijian dollars if you want to purchase any local handicrafts, which are great for authentic souvenirs and gifts!
Have you done any of these things, or have a suggestion on other great ways to make a difference during a trip to Fiji? Please tell me about it in the comments below!
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