Our Most Amazing Experience Yet!
Approximately 42,000 children's books were donated, collected, sorted, and packed by individuals, organizations and churches throughout the lower half of the north island in New Zealand. This was a combined community effort headed by Mormon Helping Hands. The books are now in a container, on a ship, in the ocean and on their way to Fiji, where they will be distributed to schools on the remote outer islands where children have some text books but no reading or picture books.
The World Report crew from Salt Lake City, who is responsible for the wonderful stories we see on TV in between Sunday Conference sessions, will report on this amazing project during April conference. They were in Fiji for only two days and wanted to get footage of the books arriving and being given to some of the children who will be recipients.
As the arrival of the large shipment could not be coordinated with the crew's tight schedule, we arranged for a second mini-book drive and then delivery of these books for the crew to document. Jeff and I and Eileen, our Director of Public Affairs who was in charge of this project, took 200 books with us to Fiji, and added the 2000 books collected over the previous weekend by the Church primary school in Suva. Our DPA in Fiji arranged for all of us, the books, the WR crew, dignitaries from the Fijian Ministry of Education, and two Church stake presidents to make our delivery to a remote island school. Read some highlights of our experiences and see a glimpse of what we saw on the most amazing adventure we have had so far........
Loading boxes of books onto one of two small boats that took us to the island.
Second boat containing the 3 men of the World report crew plus their equipment.
The tiny island of Bau seemed very far away when we were in a tiny, overloaded boat with no life jackets. Bau Island is a 'chiefly' island and we were told the most important island of Fiji, because it is the island of the first King of Fiji, and today, one of his descendants is the chief. One has to get special permission to go there, and permission is not often given. It was an honor for the Church that the Ministry of Education thought our donation important enough to obtain permission for us to go to this particular island.
Island children unloading the books and carrying them to their school.
We had to observe very strict protocol while on the island. First of all we had to be presented to the chief and formally be given permission to be on the island, present the books and take photos. We had to walk single file, men in front, women in back to their meeting place. We were not allowed to wear shoulder straps of any kind (shoulder bags, camera straps), no hats or sunglasses, women had to wear dresses. We were told we could not stand on higher ground than the chief.
Darling children along the way were curious and friendly. It was obvious they don't get many white faced people on the island.
We saw several traditional buildings with very steep roofs.
This is a horribly blurry photo and I felt I risked my life taking it! We were led single file to this large, open 'meeting room' with woven mats covering the floor. There were about 25 men seated cross legged around a large, decorated bowl, called a kava bowl. The men in our party were given specific places to sit to the right of where the chief would sit, and the four of us women were barely tolerated and sat in the back. We were required to bring the chief a gift of kava. This is a root that through some process of cooking and mashing, becomes a narcotic drink. It is legal and as common as coffee. The kava ceremony lasted about 45 minutes with much talking, and clapping. The chief eventually came in and sat down in the front, under a large photograph of his ancestor the first chief, who was a cannibal until he converted to Christianity. There was more talking between the person in charge of the ceremony and our representative, a Fijian stake president of the Church who also comes from a chiefly line. We had no idea what was said because it was all in Fijian, but we were told that we honored the chief and told him why we had come and asked permission to be there and make our donation and asked him to accept our gift of kava. Then he accepted our gift, welcomed us to the island and thanked us for the donation. Pretty soon the drink was brought in and poured into the kava bowl. Then a smaller bowl was filled, words and rituals took place, then the kava was presented to the chief to drink. Then it was ceremoniously presented to one of our representatives as honored guests to drink. Part of the ceremony must have been to tell the chief that we do not drink kava and could one of the other people who came with us (several people from the Ministry of Education accompanied us), accept and drink the kava on our behalf. I guess this might have been a delicate situation so as to not offend. Anyway, after about 45 minutes of sitting on the floor with aching knees, the ceremony was over. We had permission to deliver the books, take photos and 'film' while there.
It was very interesting to watch the children opening the boxes of books. They opened them very carefully, and almost reverently started reading the first book they picked up.
I love the look on this young girl's face. She looks like she is seeing pictures of things she has never seen before.
Here Eileen is enjoying the 'fruits' of her year long efforts.
We had a brief 'handing over' ceremony and then the children sang a song to us about the beauty of their island. What was really beautiful was their singing. They were excellent singers and harmonized beautifully. We were very touched. After the ceremony they led us to a room and fed us lunch. We didn't recognize any of the food except a fish with head and tail intact. Jeff ate a little so as not too offend, but I didn't, and of course we didn't drink the water. Jeff was lucky and did not get sick.
We are standing in front of the Tomb of the Kings. This sits on the highest point on the island and houses the remains of all the Kings. We were not allowed to get closer. The day after this trip we were able to met with the Minister of Education in his office. He is a close adviser to the Prime Minister.
Later that day the World Report crew were able to take footage of the beautiful Suva, Fiji Temple and also interview Elder Wakolo, our wonderful Area Seventy who is Fijian. We were also able to attend a temple session. We had a wonderful trip with many more experiences and we will be anxious to see if this story is included in the World Report next April.