Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Maya Breitburg-Smith says the environment is an important thing because it is connected with our personal and economic growth. She said if the area outside your home is not taken care of you are not going to be healthy, and you will be spending a lot on health care.

A lot of time people dont realise that the environment plays a crucial part of our life, she said. Maya as everyone calls her has been in the country a little over a year but already she has been involved in environmental awareness in the Tikina of Komave on the Coral Coast.

I met Maya while out on an assignment and was interested to know how she had adapted so well in the Tikina of Komave thousands of miles away from her homeland. The shy soft-spoken lass was a bit hesitant to be interviewed until she was encouraged by a few villagers. What startled me was the way she freely conversed in the Navosa dialect with everyone in Korolevu. Maya is originally from Maryland just outside Washington DC in the United States.

The 24-year-old peace corps volunteer and a graduate in environmental science has been working with the vusu environment committee to help the community focus on preserving the environment and improving environmental practices. Maya arrived in Fiji on June 1 last year and completed her training in Lawaki Village just outside Lautoka.

I wasnt really sure what to do with my degree so I joined the peace corps where I get to travel to some place new for two years and try something new, she said. When I started as a peace corps volunteer in the villages we started building compost toilets and doing recycling projects. We also organised a Clean Compound competition to see how best villagers keep their surroundings clean.

This would allow villagers to separate their rubbish. They would also ensure standing water and drains were cleared at the villages. Maya said the one thing she enjoyed and made a point of learning was the local dialect. Picking up the dialect took a while although we had training at Lawaki Village. But I am learning every day, she said.

When I went to the village I tried not to speak in English although the people here speak it very well and it is one of my goals to speak the dialects. I went to the bose ni yasana in Nadroga and when everyone from my district being Navosa was speaking I was able to understand them but when people from Sigatoka started speaking I was lost.

It takes time to learn the dialects and is a good experience because you get to meet new people and eat new foods and we also laugh about our funny experiences. Everyone has been welcoming but of course you would miss home and your family. I get homesick but communication with those back home isnt really that hard. I have a mobile phone that I use and there are email shops in town and being able to reach out to my family helps a lot.

It helps a lot that I am always surrounded by people here at the villages and it helps shake off my homesick blues and they are very friendly and caring.

Adapted from the 17 October 2007