After a leisurely Sunday spent with our newfound friends from Natokalau, we jumped right back into the daily village routine Monday morning. For breakfast, we enjoyed an assortment of Fijian treats including the super delicious fried dough pockets sprinkled with brown sugar and homemade oatmeal with strawberry jam. Breakfast energized us for the fun, busy day ahead.

As usual, most of us spent the morning hours working hard on the storm shelter. We cut and installed the last glass window panels, helped to measure planks of wood, and mixed cement. Sydney, Ava, Ange, and Whitney even visited a nearby village to borrow tires to help with landscaping in Natokalau.

Sydney, Ange, Whitney, and Ava roll tires to prepare for a landscaping project in the village.

Sydney, Ange, Whitney, and Ava roll tires to prepare for a landscaping project in the village.

It is truly amazing to see the immense progress we have made on the shelter over the past week. The entire group plans to spend our final mornings working to the best of our ability in order to meet our objective of finishing the inside of the shelter.

While Sarah, Isa, and Ange went into town to buy the last needed construction supplies, Anna, Jon, Camila, and Grace cooked a tasty curry for lunch.

After time to relax and take in the beauty of a warm Natokalau afternoon, we took a walk to a local farm, called the Marist Academy, which spans over 1,100 acres. At the farm we learned about sustainable farming practices as we explored greenhouses and fields of taro and kava, among other crops.

Students learn about the farm greenhouse.

Students learn about the farm greenhouse.

Along with some Natokalau locals, we took a tractor ride up to the peak of the mountain where we had stunning panoramic views of the land and ocean below. It was truly breathtaking.

Nav, Alexa, Isa, Anna, and Ava on the tractor ride to the top of the farm.

Nav, Alexa, Isa, Anna, and Ava on the tractor ride to the top of the farm.

The entire group at the top of the hill!

The entire group at the top of the hill!

View from the top.

View from the top.

Once we walked back to the village, we spent our time playing volleyball with the locals, working on our independent projects, and hanging out with our Fijian friends when they returned from school. We enjoyed a dinner of stir fry, rice, curry, fish, and chicken followed by a kava ceremony. Finally, we split up between the guys and girls to practice our Fijian dances to perform on the last night in the village.

Tired yet content, we all went to sleep, feeling bittersweet about the dwindling time left in Natokalau and cherishing the relationships we have formed with both the locals and each other.

Sarah and Jon put the finishing touches on the inside of the shelter.

Sarah and Jon put the finishing touches on the inside of the shelter.

Our final day in Natokalau began as any other day would. The group woke up and ate a breakfast consisting of “doughnuts” at 7, and began our final day of work on the shelter at 8. Jon, Chi Chi, and Sarah worked on moving sand, while Isa and Nav helped put the finishing touches on the roof.

Then Isa and Sydney baked bread with Paulina, a woman from the village. Throughout the morning, members of the group took turns packing up.

Sydney and Isa prepare lunch with our hosts.

Sydney and Isa prepare lunch with our hosts.

We all sat down to lunch around noon, which consisted of egg sandwiches and the fresh baked bread. Then we all participated in a treasure hunt. Everyone sprinted from clue to clue until the final clue was found and the prize was distributed—a package of cookies!

Jon, Josie, Anna, Nav, and Sarah play in a final afternoon of volleyball.

Jon, Josie, Anna, Nav, and Sarah play in a final afternoon of volleyball.

After the treasure hunt, we had our group meeting early so that we could enjoy our last night with the village. In preparation for the dinner and festivities, some people helped cook dinner in the lovo, an earth oven. Others helped decorate the shelter and the meeting space using balloons. After about an hour of preparation, everyone met for a dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes, and a litany of local favorites.

Grace, Anna, Ava, Jon and Josie enjoy our last dinner at Natokalau.

Grace, Anna, Ava, Jon and Josie enjoy our last dinner at Natokalau.

After dinner, some of the children in the village sang a few songs for us, and then we all headed up to the shelter for the farewell party. The first performance was the girls’ meke, followed by Ava and Whitney delivering a thank you speech in Fijian.

Anna sits with children from the village during a heartwarming farewell party.

Anna sits with children from the village during a heartwarming farewell party.

After the speech, the boys’ performed their meke, and then Maggie and Ford addressed the village and thanked them for having us. Following all of the performances, the group danced the night away with the children from the village.

After dancing, everyone went back to their rooms to finish up the packing process. In the morning, we will be leaving the village with heavy hearts, but we are grateful for the friendships we have created here and the memories we have made.