It’s 10,000 miles from Lurgan to the Pacific island of Fiji but a 21-year-old local girl is to spend the summer there as a volunteer helping indigenous village communities.
Nicola Harnedy from the Shankill area is in her third year at St Mary’s University but instead of enjoying her summer break, she is to give up her valuable spare time to help others.
Nicola, who is studying Secondary Education with Business Studies (BEd Business Studies), said: “During my time in Fiji I will be working with the villagers and the village chief helping them to gain access to fresh water, restoring local school equipment and teaching English to primary school children.
“Fiji, although assumed to be a striving and fortunate country, is still developing. The average wage for unskilled workers is about $50 per week with this figure even lower within remote communities,” explained Nicola who is working with an organisation called VESA (Volunteer Eco Students Abroad).
“Many believe that as tourism is so popular within Fiji the island should be very prosperous. However this is not the case as these larger resorts are operated mainly by foreign bodies and the profits head overseas. This is one of the main reasons that VESA carry out their voluntary work on the island and need volunteers such as myself to help.”
The former St Francis Primary School student has the full backing of her large family, her mum Patricia, dad Richard and five siblings Ryan, Caitriona, Aoife Jamie and Dylan. She is also being given a boost by her uncle Denny Coleman of Shebeen fame. Denny, along with Wayne Lavery, now make up the popular band Gael Force and they will be headlining a special fund raising event at St Paul’s GAA Club on Friday, April 25.
Nicola, who also attended St Mary’s and St Michael’s schools, said that the costs of the programme are significant including hiring local skilled trades people to supervise and assist in the building projects, building materials and donations to local organisations.
“Whilst VESA is a volunteer organisation, it is not a registered charity so donations will not be tax deductible. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to make a difference and I am really looking forward to it,” said Nicola, who also works part time at Rushmere’s Dunnes Stores.
The fundraiser in St Paul’s Club with Gael Force is expected to attract a huge crowd. It starts at 9pm with a prize giving quiz as well as tasty food and a raffle.