My name is Kaitlyn Aurora Quinn and I was born and raised in Mississauga, Canada. Currently I have plans to study Marine Biology in post secondary once I finish travelling the world and possibly completing my divemaster training (also with GVI). I went to volunteer for 3 months on Caqalai, Fiji, for marine conservation. My family and I were planning a trip around the world when my mother actually stumbled across GVI while looking for diving opportunities. We had wanted to become more involved in the communities that we intended on visiting, since too often people travel and never experience what it really feels like to be apart of the local community (in respect to everything from culture and religion to food and architecture). GVI offered exactly that, as the program offered opportunities to meet members in the community as well as volunteer in local schools. However after what felt like the shortest month of my life had passed, I realised I loved volunteering there too much to leave so I extended my one month volunteer term into 3 (after leaving the country for 2 short weeks to sort out my visa).
It was easy to notice that even from the beginning that everything was extremely well planned out in terms of life on base. This was especially true for the safety standards, as I had never once felt the staff was out of control or I was in danger despite it being a rather secluded island. On top of that, the staff was always more than willing to help out with any problems that arose, or any questions (no matter how ridiculous). Extensive assistance was provided beforehand with regards to planning for our arrival and meetup, and everything between then and our departure was smooth and efficient considering they planned for so many volunteers at a time. It went by so quickly considering how much work was done in those 3 short months.
A day in the life of a volunteer on Caqalai is rather busy, however over time the routine becomes second hand nature. We would wake up at around 6am on weekdays in order to begin our duties at 6:30am. Our daily duties can be either cooking (galley), cleaning the dive shed/prepping the boats, cleaning the pathways/bathrooms, and organising the waste for boat pickup. While some only occur once during the day, other duties such as galley and boat will happen twice. Luckily, the jobs will rotate daily so that everyone has to do them once a week with one day of the week as a break. After our morning chores, we will have lunch at 7am and then an hour to prepare for any activities at 8am. While we get 2 in water activities a day ranging from snorkeling surveys, diving surveys, point out training, or in water validations, we can also possibly be responsible for shore/boat marshaling (for the others doing in water activities), inputting data onto the computers, or studying for our respective specialties (being either fish, benthic, or invertebrates). In addition we sometimes will volunteer in the local schools/villages, which would require going over in a boat after breakfast/lunch. Typically unless we are off the island in the village, lunch is prepared by some of the most lovely Fijians and served at 12pm (Roro balls are a fan favourite). Activities resume at 1pm and continue until around 5, which at this point either gives volunteers free time to play volleyball, study, or relax (aka nap in hammocks). Galley and boat however need to continue their jobs as to de-kit the boats and take care of the gear, or make dinner for the rest of the volunteers and staff. Dinner is served at around 7pm, and at 7:30pm staff gives a briefing for the next days activities as well as naming off the days achievements! After briefing, galley cleans the kitchens while everyone is responsible for their own dishes, but after everything is clean the generators are still on until 10pm so everyone gets the chance to play card games or talk while charging their electronics. On weekends however things are different as people get the opportunity to go to the mainland/local resort via boat (arranged by the staff), or stay on base to relax! Smaller duties are required to keep the island running on weekends, however those who do stay get the opportunity to go on open dive decks and have fun dives!
From the first day on base to my last, the staff members were beyond welcoming and helpful. Arriving to Caqalai, I had only acquired my open water certification in Canada. While on base however I also trained, studied, and completed my advanced open water, rescue diver, emergency first responder, and scubapro servicing qualifications. All of the required resources such as books and equipment were readily supplied and in good condition, and the staffs extensive knowledge of all the topics made lessons run smoothly as questions could be answered with ease. Overall the training was fast paced however not rushed in the sense that knowledge was lost in the process, and I as well as many others felt confident in our abilities to carry out what we had learned in real life situations. I also got to see first hand how caring they were when my mother, who was a poor swimmer (and nervous to dive as a result) was met with nothing but kindness. They were also beyond flexible with their teaching methods, and would go so far as to help me learn and feel comfortable even during what was supposed to be their free time.. All of their effort truly helped make my mother the confident advanced open water diver that she is today, and just goes to show how accommodating and willing to help the staff was no matter what the problem.
The volunteers on the other hand were just as incredible and kind despite coming from completely different walks of life. I’ve made friends from all over the world that I now intend on visiting very soon just because I can’t imagine living without them. Being on such an island has caused us all to grow very close despite the short amount of time we spent together, and I constantly reminisce while scrolling through all the photos we took. I had an unbelievable amount of fun every day with the incredible community of Caqalai. My favourite part however is hard to pick, I made so many amazing memories with my friends on base and all of the diving opportunities I had. By far though my favourite part had to be teaching children in the local schools on the island next to us (Moturiki). As much of a hassle they were in some moments (as expected of any young children), they were so full of life and willing to learn everything we were teaching them. When we were waiting for their teacher and unable to play outside due to the rain, they sang us the most beautiful songs and would become ecstatic when we sang along. My heart nearly burst when one of the kids came up to me afterwards to thank me for coming as she gave me a drawing she did of me. Walking back to the boat broke my heart as I absolutely fell in love with the community, but waving goodbye as all the kids headed home I was reminded just how much of a difference I was able to make. For that, I truly have to thank GVI for giving me that incredible opportunity, as that will forever be an experience that I cannot forget.
Throughout this whole experience I learned a lot about my self confidence and physical capabilities. Particularly with the rescue course, I was truly pushed to my limits and forced push through discomfort in order to receive the results I had wanted. That was one of the few times in my life that I had felt unable to complete something due to my current physical abilities, and it inspired me to push even harder as to achieve results I had no previous intentions of getting. From that I realized that I am a much stronger and resilient person than I had ever imagined, and sure enough I was able to prove my own progress once I passed the course and was able to complete things I had never imagined possible (like a push-up, surprisingly!). In addition I had learned a lot about making new friends in an unfamiliar environment. Going into GVI the first month was easy as I had my family I could also rely on, however once I returned for my second I had only known a certain handful of volunteers and staff members. Being faced with a great number of people I had never met before but was expected to help teach as well as work alongside with was challenging at first, but once I overcame the fear of being judged and making mistakes I was able to connect with people in a shot amount of time. To this day I am still able to use this skill in my daily life (especially while travelling), which I had never thought possible before I volunteered in this program.
Some advice for any person thinking of joining the GVI family on Caqalai is come with an open mind. The conditions (especially in Fiji) are harsh, and the activities are physically demanding. But if you stay open to being put way out of your comfort zone and being vulnerable to both growth and failure, you can meet some of the best people you will ever know in your life, and have experiences you would have never imagined possible. Also only bring essentials (particularly not name brand clothing/apparel). Things get dirty, and with only gaining access to washing machines on weekends when visiting the mainland, everything will need to be hand washed and dried outside. Prepare for things to get dirty, and possibly even mouldy should you not care for things extensively by airing them out.
As I plan towards my future as a marine biologist, the qualifications and experiences I got on Caqalai will for sure benefit me. Aside from obviously acquiring my advanced open water and rescue diver, the scubapro servicing course in addition to the coral reef research diver will benefit me greatly when applying to my future job. The scubapro regulator course is seldom offered to those working outside of dive shops, and it will give me a great advantage if I were to apply to dive shops seeing as I already have some experience with it. The same goes to the coral reef research diver course, as it isn’t offered as commonly as open water/advanced open water is, but it gives me experience in the field of marine research which I’ll have to use extensively once I begin my studies in university. I am confident in saying that GVI has given me the necessary tools and qualifications that I needed for my marine biology career path. Most importantly though, I feel confident that I can leave this volunteering experience with the ability to put forward what I have learned into the real world as well as my career path.