How Kayak Fiji Challenger Chris Mason found his inner “Pacific Time”
For Chris Mason, Industry Analyst at COBA in Sydney, his 10-day, 70-kilometre kayak around Fiji’s idyllic islands, visiting local credit unions and sharing his financial knowledge, was exactly what he had been looking for.
Let Chris’s words inspire you to take up the Challenge in 2016:
“With a long history of supporting CUFA, I’ve seen the great work that it does on the ground. I like to challenge myself – and this trip was challenging in ways that I’d never imagined.
Of course there was the physical challenge, but that was nothing compared to experiencing first-hand the differences that exist between our lifestyle in Australia, and that of the Fijians.
It’s only a few hours away – yet worlds apart in terms of customs and culture. It was as far away from the life we are used to as you can get. In some villages even electricity is a luxury.
The first challenge was getting to know my two fellow travellers and our guide in a very short space of time – a matter of hours really – before we set off. You’re there to support each other, and sharing this experience was very powerful.
The second challenge was, as I said, meeting the local villagers, getting to understand their customs and just comparing experiences with them.
Wherever we went people were so welcoming, sharing special meals with us and putting on welcoming ceremonies.
They were certainly receptive to the ideas we had to share, and interested in talking about the mutual movement in Australia.
The young people were particularly willing to share their aspirations with us while many of them had a dream of studying overseas, of course, they were also intent on building better village communities with improved facilities for everyone.
I was also struck by the interesting gender dynamic at play, and what a strong lead women in the communities were taking. Many are focused on micro finance and have formed support clubs. They had lots of questions about what roles the Australian mutuals could play to support them.
Most of all, the Challenge showed us what a valuable role the credit unions play: a reminder that a huge part of our mutual origins is about supporting other communities.
A key takeaway for me is that despite the differences, the momentum is there for change to improve the circumstances of these communities.
So yes it was a challenge – but not in a jarring way. Instead it was an exploration of another culture, and of what we could do to help another society.
Of course I was also able to appreciate what an idyllic location it was: standing on the beach, looking out over the ocean, or sitting under the stars with no light pollution whatsoever, kids running around us on the beach. It really was wonderful.
It’s hard to avoid clichés, but it has definitely prompted me to want to challenge myself more. In fact, just recently I climbed up a Welsh mountain. And I am thinking about a trip to Laos next year.
Here are my top six tips if you are thinking of taking up the Challenge in 2016:
- Definitely do it: it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.
- Prepare yourself physically by getting plenty of exercise beforehand – I actually found the training to be more gruelling than the actual kayaking. You will be pleasantly surprised.
- Prepare your mindset too: prepare to be a fish out of water at first. It’s all part of the experience.
- Remember that you will completely leave behind your normal lifestyle. They call it ‘Pacific time’ for a reason: drop all expectations – for us here every hour is accounted for – with meetings and so on, whereas in Fiji everything is up in the air. It’s a very different pace. No alarm clocks!
- Rest assured that the Challenge is structured in a way that allows you to ease yourself into it gradually. There is time to explore a village, walk around. Time to cut down a coconut to drink: it’s a wonderful experience.
- The fundraising is another great aspect – again you may be out of your comfort zone at first. But for engaging with people in the office, as well as family and friends, it’s an interesting experience telling them about the trip and what it will achieve.
Where else can you find such an incredible opportunity for personal development and also to do something good for others?
I can truly say now that I am now more aware than ever of the roles the mutuals can play in helping these communities save and borrow.
Ready to become a CUFA Challenger in 2016?
The CUFA Leadership Challenge in 2016 is a life-changing opportunity—not only for you, but also for others less fortunate, so don’t miss out!