Knowing what to do over your summer break can be hard, but lots of students choose to volunteer. Check out this interview with Francesca Castelo (BA Geography 2019) who volunteered with Think Pacific, an organisation that works in the Pacific islands to deliver sustainable projects, in partnership with the population.

What Were Your Project Highlights?

Hearing the volunteers enjoy their project. In fact, most of them wanted to go back to Fiji to visit the village we were paired with in the future! Knowing that makes the role so rewarding because as a team leader you are helping to shape a unique experience for the volunteers by checking up on them or planning team activities, for example. Yes, it is a big responsibility to safeguard their welfare, but hearing them reflect positively about the project feels so rewarding—it’s an experience they will never forget! As a non-ex-volunteer, experiencing everyday Fijian life for the first time, alongside the volunteers, was also a highlight.

How Has Project Impacted Your Life?

Being a Team Leader Intern for Think Pacific made me appreciate the notion of learning as a constant process, even more, helping me strive a balance between improving myself and recognising my achievements so far. Also, leading a group of 16 volunteers in a country I have never been to before definitely made me more confident in my skills and abilities. It is a demanding but highly rewarding role and gives you an ‘if-you-can-make-it-here-you-can-make-it-anywhere’ feeling. Moving forward in my career, being a Think Pacific Team leader has also made me want to pursue roles in organisations with similar values, i.e. organisations that are conscious of the impacts they leave behind, are culturally sensitive and puts sustainability at the forefront of their projects.

What Were Your Biggest Challenges on Project?

Being a non-ex-volunteer was definitely the biggest challenge I faced as a Team Leader in the project. Unlike my other two team leaders, I have no prior experience living or volunteering in Fiji. All of us Team Leaders did receive comprehensive training to prepare us for our roles and what to expect. Doing the training exercises for the TP Sports Coaching program, for example, massively calmed my nerves! I also tried to learn as much as I can about my co-leaders’ experience to gain a better understanding of volunteering in Fiji. Nevertheless, as I have no first-hand experience of a Fijian village or a Fijian school, I felt concerned that I won’t be as ‘helpful’ as I wanted to be to my volunteer group (e.g. by answering questions such as what volunteering in Fiji is like). My advice to that challenge: DON’T WORRY. And most importantly, DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF. At times I definitely was. You may have a bit more of learning to do than your co-team leaders, but you will learn! Reaching out to my co-leaders and project managers were particularly helpful because they gave me advice and boosted my confidence.

What Skills Did You Develop on Project?            

My coordination skills were definitely tested and refined. It’s one thing to communicate information as a solo leader. It’s another to communicate as a group of three leaders—there’s more scope for giving different information! This meant we really had to plan and prepare well by constantly updating each other (especially as we had to be apart sometimes) and preparing the activities thoroughly by anticipating possible issues and questions from volunteers so we can give consistent information. Which leads me to the two other skills I have developed: problem-solving and flexibility (they definitely go hand-in-hand). Preparation is essential, but there’s only so much preparing you can do. Things change in a Fijian village/school. This pushed me to be ‘quick on my feet’ and overtime made me more confident in responding to unexpected challenges.

What Would You Say to Someone Thinking About ‘Volunteering’ or ‘Interning’ in Fiji?

Get ready to learn not only about Fiji and your team but also yourself. Without a doubt, the Think Pacific Team Leader Intern role is different from any of the other internships I’ve taken up. Aside from ‘working-on-the-ground’ rather than in an office, you get a larger role and much more responsibility and accountability with regards to how the project unfolds. You also get to meet a range of different people and personalities from across the UK AND you get to lead them—two different things! And this social aspect—of being aware of the team dynamic—makes you not only a more competent leader but also a more effective member of a group in your future projects/job. Lastly, the Think Pacific Team, including my co-leaders, has been very supportive in my journey as a Team Leader Intern. They’ve been more than happy to answer all my questions and concerns as well as take the time to share their experiences and give me tips on how to become a better team leader. In short, the internship is a great space for learning!

Any Other Comments You Would Like to Share?

Taking up a Team Leader role with Think Pacific was, without a doubt, one of the most fulfilling summers I’ve had!

If we’ve inspired you to volunteer, check out one of our other 200+ ongoing opportunities or book a one-to-one with David Coles, the Volunteer Centre Manager if you have more questions. If you are short on time, then take a look at the one-off opportunities that will return for Michaelmas Term 2019, organised by the LSE Volunteer Centre. And why not follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date with our events and opportunities and read our blog for more volunteering tips and stories.