Volunteering in Fiji: Top 5 Ways to Expand Your Horizons
July 25, 2023
Amanda Barker, Practice Manager, shares lessons learned from her trip
- Amanda Barker, RVT and Practice Manager at Central Island Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Nanaimo, BC volunteered with Animals Fiji, a non-profit veterinary organization.
- It was a rewarding adventure that left a lasting impact on her outlook towards her career.
- She sat down with us to share tips for those who wish to start their own volunteer journey – be it around the corner or on the other side of the world.
1. Play to your strengths and take advantage of unique opportunities
Amanda is a CPR Instructor; she does certification for hospitals and veterinary professionals all over Alberta and British Colombia. Initially, she and her husband were going to Fiji for vacation, however, Amanda started chatting with her friend who works at Animals Fiji. She offered to teach them CPR at no charge, and they accepted.
“I was always interested in a Vet Tech Without Borders type of trip, and this was the perfect opportunity to do that,” Amanda explained. “It was supposed to be a holiday and I ended up spending most of my time in the clinic when we were there.”
2. Start small
Volunteering has been a priority for Amanda long before this trip and that helped her pinpoint which type of situations work best for her. She advises others to explore several types of volunteer opportunities before making the leap to an overseas trip.
“It was a cool experience for me, but that does not mean it will be a cool experience for everyone,” Amanda said. “Do your research. If you’re hesitant to step into different situations, volunteering in a more structured organization with a more developed setup might be best. One where you will have a specific task for a set amount of time versus one where you must figure it out as you go along.”
Before this trip, Amanda spent about 10 years volunteering on various boards, committees, and councils with the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association and the Alberta Veterinary Technologists Association. She also helped with animal rescue efforts during the Fort McMurray wildfires in 2016.
“There was a huge evacuation center where we helped triage the animals evacuated from Fort McMurray and reconnect them with their families. That was my proudest moment of being in veterinary medicine,” Amanda said.
3. Make use of your VetStrategy network and resources
“Medications, instruments, vaccines, and things like that are extremely difficult to get in Fiji. We reached out to VetStrategy clinics here on the island,” Amanda recalled. “A bunch of clinics came together and donated supplies. We also reached out to our vendors and all our representatives.”
Amanda and her husband brought a 60-pound suitcase full of donated supplies and medication which they estimate could help save and treat thousands of patients.
4. Get proper clearance for donations
This will vary depending on which organization you collaborate with. Most non-profits already have processes in place; follow their instructions and keep an open communication.
“Animals Fiji provided a wish list of medications and supplies. From there, my inventory team helped me reach out to drug reps and I contacted other PMs at VetStrategy to see if anyone had any recently expired or donated medications,” Amanda detailed. “Once I had the list compiled of everything I had, I sent that to Animals Fiji and they applied for a permit through Fiji’s Customs Agency. The permit was emailed to me and presented on arrival in Fiji. The declared medications were inspected by the agency, and then released back to me for delivery to Animals Fiji.”
5. Be adaptable, flexible, and open-minded
This is perhaps the most important point to remember. Amanda was only supposed to teach her CPR classes at the Animals Fiji clinics, however, one of their veterinarians and her friend (an RVT) asked her to help with medical procedures. These additional interactions with the patients and clients further enriched her experience.
“It became a regular part of the day when the weather was not good. We would get up in the morning, get coffee, and visit my friend at the clinic to see what cases she had that day,” Amanda recalled. “We did some outpatient treatments. We also conducted emergency surgery for a cat that was spayed at another clinic whose incision was infected. It was great to see the cat go back home with its family.”
What’s more, it’s important to shift your mindset when volunteering in developing countries like Fiji because oftentimes they do not have the same equipment and regulations as we do.
“Your tools may change, but your skills and knowledge are still there. Do not be hesitant to get involved just because it is not the standards of practice you are used to,” Amanda said. “They are doing the best they can, and they just want to do the best for the animals.”