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Finding fulfillment through service in Fiji

My name is Rujeko, and I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji working in Community Economic Development. I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until I was 8 years old when my family moved to the United States in 1995. I come from a family dedicated to service through education, medicine, work in conservation, and my parents are RPCVs who served in Mexico from 2018 to 2020. Being raised with these positive influences contributed to my interest in dedicating a part of my life to service, specifically with the Peace Corps.

PCV Rukjeko as a child in Zimbabwe
Rujeko Mashinya was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until she moved with her family to the United States in 1995 at age 8.

I received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland in 2008 and subsequently earned an MBA at Towson University in 2017. I spent more than a decade working in the areas of business management, accounting, and personnel training and development. I wanted to use my experience and skills in these areas through service with the Peace Corps and working on Community Economic Development in Fiji was the perfect fit.

Service also gave me an opportunity to live in another part of the world, where I have the chance to learn a new culture and language. I have always loved to travel, both to developed and developing countries. What I enjoy most about traveling are the interactions I’ve had with local people. The chance to learn about their lives has been wonderful.

I arrived in Fiji end of January 2023 and participated in pre-service training for 10 weeks while living with my host family, a married couple who were both retired. I bonded with my host family and the community. They were pivotal in helping me adjust to Fiji when I first arrived. They taught me important customs, for example how to respectfully greet elders and persons of great influence, announcing myself with a tama (traditional greeting) upon entering someone’s else’s home or the community hall, the best way to wash my clothes by hand and teaching me how to cook some of the foods I would be eating regularly like dalo, a root vegetable also known as taro and a staple cuisine in Fiji, or ota, a wild fern.

PCV Rujeko Mashinya with children in Fiji
Rujeko Mashinya, a Volunteer in Fiji, said she loves being a part of the community and has been able to form great friendships.

Presently I live and work in a village in Fiji. I have absolutely love being a part of the community. I have been able to form great friendships here and have enjoyed the many cultural exchanges we have shared. They have great interest in my Zimbabwean background and ask me many questions about the life and culture and how it compares to Fijian culture.

The women have really taken me under their wings and have become my pseudo grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and cousins. I have also formed great relationships with the many children here, who have truly become my best friends. It has been easy to immerse myself in the way of life, too. I am part of the church choir, I have enjoyed fishing on the river on a bamboo raft, and have traded many talanoas (storytelling), and learned the language.

Collaborating closely with the community, particularly the women's group, we are engaged in various projects aimed at advancing community development. I led a workshop focused on project design and management, ensuring that participants received training in the essential tools required for the effective planning, development, and sustainable management of community projects. Recognizing the pivotal role women play as the backbone of this community has been deeply gratifying, and I find great fulfillment in working alongside them.

Rujeko Mashinya sings in the church choir
Rujeko Mashinya, who supports Community Economic Development projects in Fiji, sings in the church choir away from service.

In June 2023, we began the process of renovating the community hall by constructing bathrooms with disability access. We worked together in fundraising, submitting a village improvement scheme application to the Ministry of Itaukei affairs that was approved in November, and now we are about to begin the construction of the bathrooms.

In addition to the community hall renovation, we are collaborating on a Small Project Assistance grant-sponsored project for solar streetlights that will postively impact the village. We held a climate change information and learning session in lieu of implementing our solar light project this past October.

I am looking forward to working with the youth here, too. We plan to conduct a personal finance workshop, as well an additional project design and management workshop. The youth have a strong desire to become more active within the community and want to construct a playing field for volleyball and rugby, the favorite sports among the youth here, along with creating a small library to help improve literacy.

In the 15 months I have left of service, I look forward to continuing my work, regardless of any challenges I may face, as the rewards so far of being a Volunteer have been the best part of service.