Our Naturopathy students Sophie and Erin tell us about their fascinating experience volunteering in Fiji.
Throughout their studies, Sophie and Erin always wanted to find community-based work and had a keen interest in public health at a grassroots level. A year after graduating and working in clinical practice, they were inspired by Jules Galloway who spoke at the Australian Naturopathic Summit about a public health and nutrition project in Fiji. They signed up and with the support of friends, family and colleagues they were able to raise the funds needed to make the trip happen.
Why volunteer in Fiji?
The death rate in Fiji from Type 2 diabetes is the highest in the world, and three people are amputated daily due to this disease.
1 in 3 adults in Fiji are diagnosed with diabetes; on top of this, due to lack of resources and education, three in every four people with diabetes in Fiji are undiagnosed. Late detection can lead to serious complications such as eye disease, foot ulcerations, kidney failure, amputations, heart disease and death. The burden on financial resources, the labour force and families is disastrous.
Health education and regular checkups are key to preventing lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. Involvement Volunteers International (IVI), the organisation that we volunteered with, had many connections within Fijian communities enabling us to respectfully carry out our volunteer work.
Naturopaths In Action
Each day they headed into a new HART (Housing Assistance and Relief Trust) community. HART helps to provide housing for those in need in Fiji, especially women and children.
“We would set up a health station where we provided free health checks for community members including blood pressure, blood sugar, body mass index and weight to hip measurements. At times the health checks were challenging, with some people requiring immediate medical attention. Thanks to some help from local guides we were able to do plenty of home checks for those unable to walk due to amputation or disability, as well as visiting a nursing home. Our naturopathic skills shone when we would speak to people about practical tips on how to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, and help with managing pre-existing health conditions. We had great conversations about ways to reduce sugar consumption, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, and using cost-effective, accessible strategies to improve health such as exercise and gardening.”
The challenges seemed to be a lack of access to care, education, financial barriers, food and housing access, and for Sophie and Erin, there were also language and cultural differences to navigate. Many people were open and receptive to change, others weren’t. It seemed that health literacy was increased in those who had known someone affected by diabetes.
“For example, one lady we met had a family member who had passed away due to diabetes complications; she had really good health markers and explained to us that she was careful to “watch her sugars” and to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Our time in Fiji was a really interesting, eye-opening and humbling experience and we’re so grateful to have had this opportunity. Working with different cultures helps to broaden your perspective, and exposes you to demographics that we naturopaths in Australia may not typically see in clinical practice. We would encourage others to take part in volunteering in a respectful and grassroots manner.”
Tips for volunteering:
- How can you best align your skill set to an area of need?
- Is the organization legitimate and do they have good community connections?
- Is there a need for volunteers in this area? Is there a plan to assist communities long term or educate and empower people to run projects themselves?
Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy).
Working at Goulds Natural Medicine in Hobart, Tasmania
Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy)
Working at Keane for Wellness in Hawthorn and Craigieburn, Victoria
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