A unique grassroots fundraiser took place just before Christmas 2021, to help orphan and disadvantaged children in Fiji be able to attend school.

Marketing and communications strategist Demetri Hughes, working alongside Dr Eleni Athinodorou and a small group of volunteers, described the success of the recent campaign.

Not long before the COVID shutdown in Fiji, the children of St. Tabitha’s Greek Orthodox Orphanage in Fiji lost their sole means of being able to travel to and from school. With the return of in-person schooling, this was presenting a real obstacle for the Orthodox nuns to be able to drive the children to continue their education and see their other friends – there is no nearby public transport.

“Working alongside a small committee of volunteers, we set an ambitious goal of purchasing a 12-seater van before the return of their schooling,” Demetri Hughes told Neos Kosmos.

“The community response to this campaign held over the Christmas holiday period was both incredibly humbling and exceeded our expectations,” Mr Huges said.

Dr Eleni Athinodorou and Fr Meletios. Photo: Supplied

According to Mr Hughes, people really resonated with the story of the children at the orphanage in Fiji and wanted to help.

“From Yiayias and Papous coming up to us to give donations, to young children alongside their parents asking to give their pocket money or savings, to youth and middle-aged responding to our social media campaign or scanning our QR codes on their phones to donate, or to people asking their co-workers in workplaces to join them in making a difference,” he enthused.

In a real community effort with Greeks and Australians responding to the needs of the Fijian people, the response was extraordinary; in just over two months the team were able to raise the money to make their goal possible.

“Things initially took a little longer after the fundraiser with vehicle supply issues, we were able to in the interim hire a van at a cost of $100 a day to ensure the children started the schoolyear alongside the other kids,” Mr Hughes explained.

“Today, though, we are incredibly happy to announce thanks to this fundraiser, the purchase and delivery of a near-new ex-government van through a local Toyota dealership. The funds raised also allowed us to obtain a fixed warranty package; 12-month mechanical service agreement; car seat protectors, window protectors and fog lights; and a brand-new industrial washing machine for the Children’s home.”

Happy faces in their new van. Photo: Supplied

The vehicle will not only transport the children to and from school during the week but will open opportunities for recreational activities on the weekend.

Father Meletios, Administrator of the Greek Orthodox Mission in Fiji, also spoke to Neos Kosmos on the reaction of the children. “The children have been absolutely thrilled with their new van. The photos of the children really tell the story,” he said.

“This van could not have come at a better time. We are finally able to take all the children to activities and events with just one vehicle. Having a van makes everyday life much easier for all of us, and increases our ability to provide new and meaningful experiences for the children of St. Tabitha’s Home.

“In addition to the vehicle, the home needed a washing machine and thanks to the generosity of others, having exceeded the fundraising goal originally set, we were even able to purchase this also. It is now fully installed and washing for 27 children”, he said.

The support from church and community during this campaign has inspired and motivated Dr Eleni Athinodorou, Director of Education and Development for Paradise4Kids Fiji, to proceed with their next projects.

“Fiji is a fairly recent addition to our charity Paradise4Kids and it is a cause very dear to my heart. There is a growing interest in people wanting to help,” Dr Athinodorou said.

“Our newly formed fundraising committee has done an amazing job during this campaign and their skills and talents will continue to be put to good use as we roll out other campaigns to fund future educational projects for the Mission.

“It’s an exciting time to serve the people of Fiji, all by the Grace of God. Now that we have promised and delivered on the van for the children, we plan to start raising funds for the next projects to help the children have the best lives possible and reach their true potential.”

Children arriving to school in the new van. Photo: Supplied

About St. Tabitha’s Orphanage / Children’s Home

St. Tabitha’s in Fiji is under the spiritual guidance of His Eminence Metropolitan Myron of the Greek Orthodox Church in New Zealand. It offers a holistic approach to children’s development, catering for the physical, social, emotional, spiritual, and cognitive development of almost 30 children and youth.

Paradise4kids in Australia is a full volunteer charity. No one draws a salary or profits financially. It operates under HADA – Health & Development Aid Abroad Fund Inc Charity. It focuses its support on the ground in Fiji and financially supports the educational outcomes of St. Tabitha’s children.

Individuals and businesses wishing to donate can message the charity through the contact form on their website.

For further information visit www.facebook.com/P4K.FIJI or www.paradise4kids.org/st-tabitha-orphanage-fiji/