Auburn University’s College of Human Sciences’ Study Abroad to Fiji is a great example of how ecotourism and community development can be reformed in a sustainable way.
This past summer I, along with 12 other Auburn students, studied abroad on the island of Vorovoro, Fiji. For a month, we lived alongside the Mali tribe helping them build a Grand Bure as well as other smaller projects the community requested. This is the fourth year the trip has been functioning under Kate Thornton and the College of Human Sciences.
Kate Thornton first discovered this community through her experience with Tribe Wanted. Tribe Wanted was an ecotourism business that brought people from across the globe to live on the secluded island of Vorovoro with the Mali tribe. The business idea was very successful, so there was a heavy flow of money put towards the project quickly without the infrastructure in place to continue the project long term. So as the funds and interest began to dwindle, so did the business and the Mali tribe was left to fix the issues and problems left over.
This is where Kate and Auburn University stepped in. Along with the help of Jenny Cahill and her organization Bridge the Gap Villages, the study abroad was established with the hopes of reversing the damage of Tribe Wanted and empower the people of Mali. This trip focuses on projects that empower the local people year round and not just while Auburn students are present. This is different than Tribe Wanted around the aspect of service. The Mali people served and worked for the tourists who paid to come for a week or so on the island. Auburn’s goal is for the students and faculty to serve the community of Mali and catering to their needs while respecting cultural values and traditions.
Through slow growth and genuine relationships, the study abroad has built a water catchment system for the community to utilize in the dry season and a Grand Bure that the community uses for celebrations and meetings. Auburn tries their best to participate in projects that the community asks for and are willing to work on their time schedule. They are also intentional in using the resource that are available on the island first before bringing in outside elements. These precautions are all put in place in hopes of beginning a development that will benefit the Mali people the most.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Vorovoro. The trip was a very humbling experience where I got to learn how to build genuine cross-cultural relationships and how important serving others is necessary for healthy development. I would encourage anyone to attend this trip whether in the near or far future. Vinaka Vorovoro! (Thanks Vorovoro)
For more information about the Fiji/New Zealand Study Abroad program, come by the Office of Global Education located in Spidle Hall room 232, or e-mail Kate Thornton.