Most people would think of leisure and relaxation if they thought
of taking a trip to breathtaking Fiji.
The 300 islands, pristine white beaches, blue lagoons, reefs
decorated with colorful fish, as well as rich forests and mountains
across 200,000 square miles of ocean conjure a vision of a vacation
dream come true.
But for a group of Laguna locals and Southern Californians the
gorgeous view was just a backdrop to their task.
Headed by Laguna’s Kay Ostensen, a counselor at Thurston Middle
School, in cooperation with Laguna Beach United Methodist Church, the
group of 11 went to Fiji to help build a United Methodist Church.
To get to the village they had a two and a half hour ride into the
jungle. The island had 40 families and a population of less than 200.
Ostensen found out about the opportunity to help in Fiji through the
Dream Machine, who help support a Seventh Day Adventist School that
had been contacted by the village chief about helping build a
foundation for a new church.
But their trip to Fiji turned out to offer a lot more.
Bill Wheeler was part of the group and is the son of Rev. Ginny
Wheeler at the church. He’s a recent graduate of UC Berkley and got
to go to Fiji as a graduation present.
“The chief’s son was into modern exposure to our culture. We were
the first interdenominational group to stay in the village,” Wheeler
said. “Fiji has a strong sense of culture and trying to meld it with
modernization and electricity was the best of both worlds.”
The sentiments from the group about the people of Fiji were
Even though he’s traveled all through Africa and Europe, Wheeler
said he has never met a more hospitable group and has never been
treated better. “They’re awesome, awesome people who really took care
us. The sense of community that comes from a village -- you go to
sleep with the moon and rise with the call of a rooster,” Wheeler
What was probably the biggest change for the group was the fact
that there was no electricity in the village.
“Trying to do it without electricity, no phone messages, e-mail or
a Xerox. We would get the use of a generator, so we would have a
couple of hours of electricity at night. We didn’t know when the
generator would go out,” said Ostensen.
She also gave an example of having to travel two and a half hours
on a dirt road to buy food to make dinner, and taking for granted
that the villagers would have salt and pepper already. Another stark
difference was revealed through a poem by Monica Gunning. She writes
children’s poetry and had a translator read one of her poems to the
“One of my poems speaks about a mean person. The children didn’t
know what that meant. They didn’t know anyone who was mean. That poem
was completely foreign to them,” Gunning said.
* SUZIE HARRISON is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline
Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321.