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Peace Corps Volunteer

Community Economic Development Facilitator

Project description

Fiji is a small island nation steeped in rich culture and traditions. Despite a century of colonization, the country has maintained strong indigenous identities and practices. Fijians are born into communal systems that guide and support them throughout their lives, with family relationships and kin networks at the center.

Fiji — a lower middle-income country whose economy is largely supported by tourism and agriculture—was hard hit by Covid-19 and the country’s economic growth contracted by 19 percent in 2020. However, Fijians’ overall economic wellbeing is multidimensional . For example, a family without income but access to land may be better off than a family with income but no land access. This is where Peace Corps Volunteers can offer support. Fiji is rich with resources beyond the white beaches that fuel tourism. The country boasts a year-round growing season, access to an ocean full of fish, and an enabling environment for business. However, to see economic growth that is shared broadly, there are a variety of enabling skills that our government partners would like to see strengthened. For example, financial literacy, business development, and project design to name a few. Volunteers are uniquely positioned to support the building of these skills.

Nearly all Volunteers are placed in rural villages. Their goal is to support community organizations—such as women’s and youth groups—to improve their project design and management skills, and to support individuals and families in income-generating activities and related money management skills. Volunteers generally follow this sequence:
1. Upon arrival to their villages, Volunteers spend three months learning about and integrating into their communities. In an intentional way, they settle into local rhythms, joining their neighbors’ daily activities, such as farming, fishing, washing, cooking, and drinking kava. With village counterparts (i.e., the mayor and leaders of women’s and youth groups), they also co-lead participatory activities focused on developing relationships.
2. In time, Volunteers co-plan and co-facilitate community trainings on topics such as project management, income-generating activities, and financial literacy.
3. As needed and appropriate, Volunteers support their communities’ efforts to find and solicit support from government ministries and NGOs that provide relevant resources.
4. Finally, Volunteers and counterparts use coaching skills to support community members as they deepen and leverage their new abilities. Activities may include the development of cooperatives, communal projects, community savings groups, and an array of income-generating activities.

The focus of this approach is mutual learning and sustainable growth, and Volunteers do not take the lead in identifying priorities or implementing projects. The Peace Corps defines Volunteer success by the quality of community learning and initiatives that they support, rather than the number or size of the projects they complete. For Volunteers who arrive to Fiji fresh out of the achievement-driven pulse of many U.S. colleges and jobs, the quiet pace and hands-off approach of Peace Corps’ development model can take some adjustment. Rather than managing much themselves, Volunteers support the bolstering of a suite of foundational economic and organizational skills that, when understood deeply and wielded with diligence over time, can be transformational.

This job begins and ends with heartfelt integration into rural, conservative, unhurried villages. Volunteers’ first priority is to build genuine connections with the people around them. Along the way, there are vibrant opportunities for Volunteers to leverage their business skills and passions, fostering economic advancement of the community they come to call home.

Required skills

Qualified candidates will have one or more of the following criteria:
• Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree in any business discipline.
• 5 years’ professional experience in business management

Desired skills

Competitive candidates will have two or more of the following:
• At least one year of community service or volunteer experience that includes individual capacity building through teaching, mentoring, or coaching adults, especially women and older youth
• Experience working in grassroots development or community organizing that involves forming, co-leading, and motivating groups of adults
• Experience working and communicating across diverse cultures
• Experience writing proposals that reflect strong project design and management skills
• Experience advising or coaching individuals in the development of income-generating activities, including such tasks as market research, opportunity identification, feasibility studies, and business planning
• Experience managing core business activities, such as marketing, sales, bookkeeping, and quality control
• Experience coaching individuals in applying personal money management skills (i.e., saving, budgeting, financial goal setting, evaluating borrowing options), potentially through a community savings group or microfinance initiative
• Education, experience, and/or interest in land or aquatic farm management and agribusiness

Required language skills

There are no pre-requisite language requirements for this position. Fiji has three official languages: Vosa Vakaviti (native Fijian), Fijian Hindi, and English. Volunteer communities are almost exclusively in rural iTaukei (i.e. indigenous) villages, where community members speak one of the many dialects of Vosa Vakaviti (some of which are dramatically different!). During PST, trainees study the primary Bauan dialect of Vosa Vakaviti, potentially receiving a bit of exposure to the dialect of their future communities. Upon arriving to their community, Volunteers continue their language studies throughout service, through self-directed study with the support of a village-based tutor and the coaching of Peace Corps’ Language and Culture Coordinator.

Volunteers’ ability to integrate and serve effectively in Fiji hinges on their language mastery. As such, it is a professional expectation that Volunteers take ownership of and prioritize their language learning, actively building their skills across the length of their service.

Living conditions

For many, Fiji conjures images of translucent waters and idyllic island living. Fiji is indeed a country of shimmering beauty, but the daily reality for Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) is textured and complex.

The indigenous Fijian village context is central to most PCVs’ experience. Villagers often place great value on hierarchy, Christianity, and traditional gender roles. The Peace Corps’ approach to development asks PCVs to embrace these norms with curiosity and respect, even when it involves such acts as wearing restrictive clothing in hot, humid weather, conforming to gender expectations, or regularly attending church. Fijians are often playful—cheeky, as locals say—but (like all of us) also carry biases that can be hurtful. PCVs’ professional success hinges upon their ability to build the cultural sensitivity, maturity, and interpersonal skills to navigate these elements with grace, while also sharing who they are with their communities.

All PCVs live with a host family for the nearly ten weeks of Pre-Service Training (PST). After PST, PCVs are assigned to their two-year communities. With few exceptions, PCVs will live in rural villages on the large islands of Viti Levu or Vanua Levu in an independent home that the village loans to Peace Corps. PCVs’ communities and homes vary across a number of factors, including:
• Location: Locations range from mountainous interiors, to coastal plains, to swampy river delta regions. Few PCV communities are next to sandy beaches.
• Housing type: While PCVs live in a variety of house types, most are fairly small and made from corrugated tin.
• Electricity: Some PCVs’ homes do not have consistent electricity. In these cases, Peace Corps provides a solar panel that can usually power one light or charge a phone.
• Phone/data coverage: Some PCVs do not have smart phone coverage within their home, though there are usually spots within walking distance where they can make a call or check email. For safety, all Volunteers have access to basic connectivity for a phone call or are given a Satellite phone for emergencies.
• Water: Some communities experience periodic shortages of fresh water, requiring PCVs to save and store water to use during those periods.
• Access to market towns: Few villages hold more than basic “canteen” shops, and market towns may be up to three hours away by public transit (buses, trucks, or vans).

Here are four other important elements of PCVs’ lived experiences:
• Floor-sitting: Sitting cross-legged on woven mats is a culturally important part of village life, and Volunteers do so for hours at a time on many days.
• Food: While Fiji has an abundance of food, village diets are heavy in root starches, fish, canned meat, processed noodles, fried dough, and other oily foods, often featuring little variety and few vegetables. Peace Corps encourages PCVs to grow their own vegetable gardens.
• Religion: Fiji is a deeply religious society. While there are many religions throughout Fiji, Protestantism and Catholicism dominate in the villages where most PCVs live. Religion and culture are inextricably linked in Fiji, and Peace Corps encourages PCVs to engage in local religious activities as a part of integration.
• Diversity: Hollywood stereotypes permeate many Fijians’ understandings of U.S. Americans, and PCVs who are of a non-majority racial, ethnic, or other group in the United States may encounter unwanted attention, even in the form of racial slurs. Fiji’s colonial history also contributed to a hierarchical sense of colorism that remains apparent today. In addition, anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments can be common—particularly in the rural communities where PCVs serve—and many LGBTQIA+ PCVs choose not to reveal this identity to their communities during service. Overall though, Fijians are incredibly warm and welcoming to guests.

Learn more about the Volunteer experience in Fiji: Get detailed information on culture, communications, housing, and health/crime statistics in order to make a well-informed decision about serving.

Medical considerations

Before you apply, please review medical clearance and legal clearance to learn about the process.

Couples information

Peace Corps Fiji welcomes couples to apply to this program. There are cultural benefits to being married in Fiji, and couples have often had robust and successful services. Both partners must meet the qualifying skills to be Community Economic Empowerment Facilitators, and they should possess a strong desire to work for the community and economic development of a rural Fijian village.

Couples live together with a host family during Pre-Service Training, and then have their own house together during service. Couples may be separated for in-service training events, which can last up to one week.

Couples serve in the same community within the same Peace Corps project, but are expected to develop unique work plans addressing different needs within their community. For example, one partner may be especially focused on the village youth and creating savings and loans groups, while the other may be more focused on the women’s group and supporting the growth of income-generating activities.

The Peace Corps works to foster safe and productive assignments for same-sex couples, and same-sex couples are not placed in countries where homosexual acts are criminalized. Because of this, same-sex couple placements are more limited than heterosexual couple placements. During the application process recruiters and placement officers work closely with same-sex couple applicants to understand current placement opportunities. For more information please visit: https://www.peacecorps.gov/faqs/lgbtq/.

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