Deciding to take our student leadership course overseas this year to Fiji, was an exciting prospect, yet it had the Future Leaders team stepping into new territory. We took 18 New Zealand year 12 and 13 high school students, who applied and were chosen based on their school and community leadership roles and commitment, from across the country. Including some away from home for the first time. With robust planning and being hosted by some amazing Fijian people, the trip was hugely successful. Students learned what it takes to be a hands on team leader, with cross cultural understanding, leading in new and challenging situations, addressing real world issues, and leaving with life long friends. Our instructor team left with a rewarding sense that we had made a difference in the lives of 35 of both nations future leaders.
We arrived at Marist Brothers High School's (MBHS), Ratu Mara Hostel, where we were shown to our bunk room dorms before meeting the 17 Fijian students leaders from five different schools across Fiji. Then followed a first for many, a traditional welcome Kava Ceremony.
Our instructor team consisted of four Future Leaders (FL) staff, three adult volunteers with KPMG, Spark NZ, NZ Army Reserve, and health support backgrounds, one past FL student returning as an assistant instructor, and a teacher from Marrzipan Drama. As an old boy of MBHS in Suva, one of our FL team members Jay (Jope) Berwick was instrumental in making the local connections and establishing the pathway for the trips success. It was hugely important for Jay to give back to his homeland and old school, and it was well noted by many influential Fijians that his efforts were welcome and needed.
Instructor team left to right (boasting our sulu's): Jay (FL), Tennille (Marrzipan), Tania (Spark),
Erin (KPMG), Jethro (FL), John (FL), Alistair (Health), Madi (former student), JP (FL).
Day one saw the students participate in our leadership development workshop, delivered by Chief Instructor - Jethro Gilbert. A mix of practical activities, group discussion, some theory, learning tools and methods to plan, make decisions, communicate, guide tasks and evaluate.
As is the case with many young leaders in the school environment, they are usually chosen for the leadership potential they have displayed during their years at secondary school. The selection process appears to vary at different schools when choosing their student leaders, from popularity votes, the best public speakers, through to more robust selection processes. Also the depth and quality of specific leadership development once they are in their leadership role at school varies, hence why we see a need to give these young leaders the skillset required for success. Importantly with the 35 students who attended this course, we were able to calculate that they collectively had direct influence over 700 other students at their schools, within their leadership teams. This highlights how important leadership selection and development really is.
Day's two to four saw the students each have an opportunity to lead a team to achieve a practical task, being mentored by an instructor and given feedback. Some of the tasks included:
Building rafts to hold all team members, from material sourced in the tropical bush. Some cunning plans and plenty of hard work, however a few sinking ships were seen! We learn the most from the tasks we don't complete. It's worth noting that nearly every outdoor activity during the trip was conducted in pouring rain. This added bonus helped our leaders build resilience, and better understand how to prioritise the well-being of their team members.
Group discussion and feedback tasks relating to important regional issues. In these sessions students presented solutions on how youth can best transition from a rural to urban living environment and the issues surrounding that. Mr Simione Sevudredre from the Fiji Ministry of Itaukei Affairs helped with this component. Another session was delivered by the Head of School from the Fiji Police Academy, Superintendent Emosi Uluilakeba, where students discussed youth issues relating to crime and displacement.
At Sawani village just North of Suva, we were invited to Adi Cakobau School, to help with a Fijian Government initiative to plant 4 million trees in four years. The Ministry of Forestry donated our students 300 trees, which were planted through the planning and coordination of our student leaders. Contributing to environmental issues is seen as an important task for many youth both in Fiji and NZ.
Many youth related issues are the same in all countries around the world, especially for close regional neighbours like Fiji and NZ. Our students were given the opportunity to discuss mental health and well-being through the facilitation of Jeremaia Merekula and the services offered by Lifeline Fiji. These sessions provided some deep personal insight for the student leaders, bringing them close together, and exposing them to the challenges that many of their team members will face in the future.
It was our pleasure to present Lifeline Fiji with a cheque for NZ$3,100, fundraised by Chop Sui champion Daniel Herbison, to help with the important work of suicide prevention.
The student leaders also led their teams to construct survival shelters in the native bush. Planning was done with diagrams drawn in the sand, coordination of gathering resources and each shelter had to withstand the simulated effects of a cyclone. At the conclusion of each leadership scenario, the Future Leaders Instructors gave the students feedback on how well they led and what could be improved next time.
Another leadership task was for teams to collect plastic waste on Mosquito Island near Suva. This clean up effort helped the island's Care Taker to reduce the impact of single use plastic on the local environment. Over three days, with good planning and leadership, and in the relentless rain, a total of 41 rubbish bags were collected. Students felt a genuine sense of community and environmental service with their achievements.
Fortunately, as word of our course spread through the grapevine, a number of supporters pitched in to help us out. Marist Brothers High School Old Boy, Meli Bainimarama used some contacts to get some local news coverage on the 6 O'clock news...
During the trip we were fortunate to have Tennille a teacher from Marrzipan Drama NZ with us. She worked separately with 12 primary school students during the week, developing their confidence and leadership abilities. The three days of training was well received, and based on the show they did at the final dinner, they had fun and certainly developed their confidence!
Our trip to Fiji coincided with ANZAC Day, and having a couple of NZ Army Reserve's in the instructor team meant that the whole course, 44 people in total, attended the Dawn Service at the Suva Military Cemetery. A moving service, a first for a few and a fitting break in the rain it was a great opportunity for the students to reflect on sacrifice and service. That was followed by an invite for a Gunfire Breakfast (minus the Rum) at the Suva Defence Club, which was much appreciated, and gave the Fijian students an understanding of what ANZAC Day was all about.
Students and instructors at the cenotaph of the Suva Military Cemetery at dawn on ANZAC Day.
On the last evening of the course VIP guests, and family members were invited to celebrate the students efforts and make presentations. Students were presented with course certificates and lapel pins, and a student representative from both Fiji and New Zealand gave a speech highlighting their key learnings and experiences. The New Zealand High Commission's Defence Attache, Lieutenant Colonel Josh Wineera gave a stirring speech to acknowledge the students and the need for them to start leading now, and that our future is in safe hands from what he had heard. Gifts were presented and both sets of students sang, danced and entertained everyone throughout the evening.
Two absolute legends, Master Manoa and Master Malani of Ratu Mara Hostel (centre), who displayed the utmost in commitment, passion, integrity, hospitality and comradeship during our stay. We thank you sincerely, and we know you meant it, that we will always have a home waiting when we need it.
Farewells on the last morning were emotional for the students and staff, with such strong bonds having been formed in only a short amount of time together. That didn't stop the bus ride back to Nadi for the airport turning into a four hour sing-a-long, with the instructors holding their own during the 80's and 90's classics...
We leave with the overwhelming sense that this course and trip has made a positive impact on the 35 individual students who attended, both personally and in their abilities to be better leaders back at school and in their communities. Our instructors and crew all developed their leadership abilities and some genuine Fijian connections will no doubt be enduring. To the Fijian students, we were very impressed by your natural leadership abilities, respect and innovative approach to tasks. The Fijian community who helped us deliver the course, we thank you graciously for your generosity and obvious care for both of our countries future leaders. Until next year Fiji, stay strong, be humble and lead well.
Time to start planning for our next student leadership programme in the Pacific this October!
Student feedback was very positive with some of the comments noted below:
"It got me out of my comfort zone and taught me leadership skills that I was able to practice during the activities"
"Everyone got a turn to be the leaders which was awesome, and we made lots of new friends"
"The experience, the culture, the people, the hospitality was amazing and I would do it again in a heartbeat"
"Not only did it teach me lead, but also understand peoples values better and how to put a plan into action"
Self evaluation of the average improvement scores (0-8) before and after the course:
Understand the role of a leader and the skills required 4 7
Ability to lead a team 4 8
Understand and display leadership qualities 5 8
Confidence and communications skills 5 7
Below is a list of schools who had students attend this course:
Pompallier College (Whangarei)
Huanui College (Whangarei)
McAuley High School (Auckland)
Sacred Heart Girls College (Hamilton)
Opunake High School (Taranaki)
Otaki College (Kapiti)
Solway College (Wairarapa)
Aotea College (Porirua)
Wellington East Girls College (Wellington)
Collingwood Area School (Tasman)
Reefton Area School (West Coast)
Cheviot Area School (Canterbury)
Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery Merged School (Christchurch)
Marist Brothers High School (Suva)
International School (Suva)
St Joseph's Secondary School (Suva)
Adi Cakobau School (Sawani Village, Suva)
Ba Provincial High School (Lautoka)
Any questions relating to this article or the programs delivered by Future Leaders Ltd, please contact us.