Seeing tropical green

Mary MacKay
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UPEI students Kirsten Van Der Velden and Kyle Murphy will be building rainwater collection systems and more for two weeks in Fiji with the Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) program

UPEI students Kyle Murphy and Kirsten Van Der Velden will leaving the chill of a P.E.I. spring behind when they fly to Fiji for two weeks on April 21 to work on eco-projects Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) program.

UPEI students Kirsten Van Der Velden and Kyle Murphy will be going green in a completely tropical way for two weeks this spring.

On April 21 this Charlottetown couple is flying to Fiji with the Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA) program, the mandate of which is to help indigenous people in remote areas to improve their living conditions and the education of their children.

During their two-week ‘eco-break’, Van Der Velden and Murray will help with an important sustainable community development project in a Fijian village.

Working with the villagers, they will undertake tasks that address some of the major issues that the community faces; for example, they will be constructing and installing rainwater catchments to combat the lack of fresh running water.

“I really like helping people and I really like travelling; (so this is) my two passions combined into one,” Van Der Velden says.

Van Der Velden discovered VESA through one of the Australia-based organization’s international recruiting drives.

“There are other students from across Canada and from around the world who will be going to the exact same place as us (as part of the VESA team),” she says.

Aside from a trip to Calgary last summer, Murphy hasn’t been out of the Maritimes but he was keen to sign up for this eco-adventure with his girlfriend who has travelled quite a bit before.

“It will be a big change for me,” he admits with a grin.

However, one aspect of this VESA adventure will be a first for both because they will home-stay with villagers for the two weeks.

“This will be a really good experience because we’re going to get the opportunity to stay with the families and (enjoy) their hospitality . . . ,” says Van Der Velden.

In addition to building rainwater- collection systems that will provide water year-round in the community, she and Murray will teach English and provide other class activities to youth in the village.

“It’s not one of those programs where you go and do all the work for the people, it’s more like a partnership with the community where they also hire locals and use their local supplies. And that’s where a lot of money that we fundraise is going — to getting the supplies and to partner with the local people to rebuild their community,” Van Der Velden says.

To date they’ve raised approximately $5,000 of the $8,000 needed to support the VESA project and their travel costs.

An upcoming Halo tournament is set for Murphy’s Community Centre in Charlottetown on April 14.


“I’m looking forward to really experiencing the atmosphere of Fiji and the people, and seeing just how they live their lives and (to help) make a difference in their lives,” Van Der Velden says.

“We’re never going to have an opportunity like that again. I can’t wait to experience it.”


Organizations: Volunteer Eco Students Abroad

Geographic location: Fiji, Charlottetown, Canada Calgary

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Recent comments

  • Kyle & Kirsten
    March 29, 2012 - 16:53

    Halo Tournament been cancelled because we decided to spend the month before we leave collecting donations for the Fijian villagers instead. Feel free to e-mail if you want to be notified for future events we are holding, or if you would like to donate any items to the families or schools in Fiji.