*Please note: All Fiji Work Placements are on hold indefinitely due to Covid-19.
Imagine gaining the skills for your future career while living and working in a beautiful island in the South Pacific. Open Colleges is asking students in Community Services to Find Their Awesome by completing their Structured Workplace Learning, AKA student work placement in Fiji, through a partnership with ACATA Trust Fiji.
Thousands of students opt to study online with Open Colleges every year because it’s a convenient way to learn. All lessons are self-paced, with no due dates, and course work can be completed whenever you choose.
But how do students learn practical skills in areas such as nursing, allied health and community services? Via hands-on, face-to-face work placements. Now students in the Open Colleges CHC52015 Diploma of Community Services can take up the option to complete their work placement in a very exotic location.
Gaining skills for your Community Services career – while working in Fiji!
Rosan Lal is the Executive Director of ACATA Trust Fiji, Action for Children and the Aged. Rosan formed the organisation in 2011 along with his wife, Sarah.
“We formed the idea together after we saw that there was such a huge problem in terms of public health,” he explains. “People were dying very, very young and the average life expectancy in Fiji is around 60 or 65.”
Life expectancy in Australia is nearly 20 years more (82.10 years).
Why do the people of Fiji have such a short life expectancy?
Rosan has a simple explanation for this massive issue. “The problem is lifestyle,” he explains. “Over the years, Pacific islanders have abandoned traditional foods and adopted the Global Diet of highly processed food. Health literacy is almost non-existent, and this has a huge impact on their food choices and health.
“The food culture in Fiji is moulded by prior generations starved of financial resources and a regular meal. A regular meal in Fiji is very carbohydrate-heavy, compromising 90% carbohydrates and 10% protein or vegetables because locals are not aware of how to build their plates with better food options. For this reason, For this reason, Fijians tend to load up with a lot of white rice, processed flour products and root crops like Cassava, which are very high on the glycemic index.
“Over decades of food abuse, their bodies cannot handle the spike in insulin levels created by this poor diet, so people start getting sick. It starts with abdominal obesity and then, of course, pre-diabetes.
"This causes a lot of complications and it is not surprising to see people with kidney failure in their 20s. Tertiary health care costs are extremely high and are beyond the means of the majority of Fijians, eventuating in early physical disabilities, emotional and financial burden, pushing families further into poverty and despair.
“The problem gets worse because, in Fijian culture, people do not go to the hospital when “nothing is wrong with them’. By the time they’re diagnosed it’s too late. Or they go undiagnosed, which is worse. A lot of heart attacks in Fiji are not diagnosed at all, they just happen, and people die."
Nearly half the population of Fiji is presented with health-related issues at screenings
“We have done surveys at health screenings, where we have seen up to 40% of attending people show signs of pre-diabetic or diabetic levels of insulin. This is not very well documented because, for every known hospital case, there are three or four cases that remain undiagnosed.
“Our research and the Ministry of Health projections say that in the next couple of years, 50% of Fijians will be diabetic and only 85% will live beyond the age of 55. It’s incredibly sad,” explains Lal.
“The most unbelievable thing is that everybody is so focused on other issues that they’ve accepted it. It’s become normal for somebody at the age 40 to pass away but nobody is really is addressing these issues over here.”
Changing the mindsets of the next generation by nutritional learning
“At ACATA, we have worked with villages, we have worked with corporates, we have worked with schools, and the biggest change that we have seen is in the mindsets of the younger children. We find that we can influence them more holistically. We teach them ‘what is right’ and ‘what is wrong’ in terms of basic nutritional practices,” says Lal.
“Essentially, we are trying to change their mindsets but changing mindsets is really tough with adults! We will go into the community, deliver a program and then after 20 or 30 days, we see the adults relapse.
“We don’t see that with the kids! In them, we see sustainable change in their mindset. When we teach them about what a serve of carbohydrate is, they remember it and they go home and teach their parents about it. It’s a ‘bottom up’ approach! These kids do our work well.
“Parents have given us feedback too. No one ever told them what a serving of fries is, what “simple carbs” are, what “complex carbohydrates” are, for example. Those simple basic nutrition elements are still missing.”
Open Colleges is now giving their students in Community Services the chance to complete their Structured Workplace Learning* in Fiji, working in these types of programs.
“First, before the Open Colleges students leave Australia, they’ll have training on what to expect in Fiji – the culture, the diversity, and social norms. Students will then go into the school system itself and be talking about nutrition and healthy practices,” explains Lal.
“No prior health and nutrition education is required as all students will be given full support and training. Their approach will be around nutritional intervention, talking to locals, and doing physical activity with them – having fun - more or less!
“Students will aim to show these kids and the villagers how simple it is to have a healthy lifestyle. We have found that when health information comes from a local, the community doesn’t pay too much attention, but when it comes from outside, they are heavily influenced.
What type of personality traits do prospective community service workers need to bring health messages to the public?
“Being passionate about health and nutrition is the main thing. You must have that passion behind trying to make a difference and wanting to see a change in somebody’s life, and it must be selfless,” Lal advises.
“The main thing is you must be able to inspire and motivate the other individuals to make the change, and just being able to relate to that individual.”
Sarah’s role at ACATA Trust Fiji
“Sarah came in as a nutritionist under the Australian aid program and she was a senior health educator. Her role was to develop programs and course materials that could go out to the schools and together we developed the school health and wellness policy, the guidelines on which our programs are based.
“This was to take the best messages of nutrition and relate it to the local culture, trying to better understand the food that is locally available, and how to translate that into good nutrition practices. At times, this was tough, especially if we didn’t know what local food practices were."
So how does the work placement program work? Will Open Colleges students live and reside with a local family to give them local support?
“Yes. All students will be coordinated to stay with local families, to give them a basic understanding of the culture, so that they’re able to understand what is happening in terms of food practices better,” Lal says.
“Open Colleges students will learn what local Fijians are buying, what they’re eating, and how they are eating. Those direct experiences will make the students realise what a better nutritional practice might be, so they’re then able to relate what they’ve learned back to the people of Fiji. That is, the idea of proper nutrition.”
So, what’s special about living and working in Fiji?
“I think it’s the laidback attitude and there’s something we call “Fiji Time”- there’s no urgency and you won’t find a lot of structure,” explains Lal.
“The locals just take things easy, people are very friendly, everybody talks to everybody else, and there’s no racism or discrimination whatsoever. It’s just a beautiful, fun-loving country. A small place where everybody knows everybody.”
*The Structured Workplace Learning for the Open Colleges Diploma of Community Services contains a minimum of 160 hours of work placement. It is recommended that you commence your work placement after successfully completing the theory components within Modules 1-3. This ensures that you develop a good foundation of knowledge prior to entering the workplace. Open Colleges students are invited to participate in bi-annual two-week work placement experiences as volunteers in Fijian communities in programs coordinated by ACATA Fiji. Students will be supervised by an approved Workplace Supervisor and assessed during the placement.
If you're looking career that will help you make a real difference in the lives of whole communities or individuals at risk, a nationally recognised qualification could give you the skills and confidence to have a lasting impact. Find out more here.