During her 2006 Thanksgiving school break, Jazmin Grace Grimaldi embarked on a tour of the Fiji islands. The small South Pacific nation comprises 300 islands, many remote and very poor. Jazmin has established her own charitable fund to help Fijians — particularly children — achieve a better quality of life. Here is her story in her own words.
My eight-island tour of Fiji was an amazing experience, something I would hope everyone might want to experience.
I must admit that I’ve been blessed to have traveled the world. Even at the ripe age of 15, I’m quickly filling my second passport. I’ve dined at the top of the Eiffel Tower, prayed at the Blue Mosque, gazed in the Sistine Chapel, stared at the Mona Lisa (it’s so small) in the Louvre, roamed the halls of the Vatican, ridden a gondola through the canals in Venice, climbed around the Acropolis of Athens, and more than once walked the full length of Monaco (it’s also so small). But my time in Fiji was by far the most hands-on, fun, exciting, educational, rewarding, and heartfelt experience I’ve had.
There are so many beautiful things to experience in Fiji — from the people and the beauty of the lifestyle to the islands themselves. Considering the fact that Fijians don’t have many of the things we take for granted — electricity, mirrors, hot water, fresh water (they cherish the rainwater they collect), and even chocolate birthday cake! — they are happy, content, generous, and good-spirited people.
I, too, felt at home, happy, and content there. The Fijians made my spirits soar and made me want to live life just as they do: carefree, loving life and each other. Of course, they need the necessities that they aren’t fortunate enough to have — and I will work hard on this.
Fijians are wonderful, loving, and inviting people who without hesitation take in strangers and offer them food and floor space to sleep. I experienced this one evening when Lily, a kind and caring woman who clearly appeared to be the village “grandmother,” invited me and those traveling with me into her home for a traditional Fijian feast — and a feast it was.
In traditional Fijian custom, we removed our shoes before entering her home (they rarely have shoes to wear) and gathered around an elaborately prepared feast laid out on a large mat on the floor. Boys sat with legs crossed and the girls with their legs to the side. There must have been 25 of us between Lily’s family and those with me. The food was delicious — exotically prepared meats, vegetables, and very fresh fruit (during walks I would pull a banana and eat it or crack open a fresh coconut). I could not have felt more welcome and loved in any of the villages I visited, making it very easy for me to make new friends.
I learned firsthand that all Fijians ask for in life is health, happiness, family, nourishment, and shelter. This trip taught me many things; but one thing that stuck out was not only the scenery, which is breathtakingly gorgeous, but also the people. The Fijians have an absolutely beautiful spirit about them.
Something I immediately thought after meeting them for the first time was that even though they don’t have much and are very poor (by our standards), they make up for it by having such rich hearts. This is the honest truth.
At first, when some of the children met me, they seemed a little nervous or intimidated. But I hope once they got to know me they felt comfortable. Shoot, I know I was a little nervous, thinking, “I wonder if they’re going to like me. What will they think of me? Are they nice?”
Immediately, they sure seemed like they did — and liked to be in my presence as much as I liked to be in theirs. The real icebreaker was me taking video. Since they don’t have mirrors, very few I met had any clue what they looked like. Can you imagine? Seriously, can you ever imagine being a young teen and seeing what you look like for the first time? When I took video, I would flip the viewer backward so they could see me filming them — and they went wild. They climbed over each other to see themselves, completely captivated by what they saw.
I made every effort to meet each and every one who came out to greet me. I decided early on that I wanted to get to personally know a couple of the girls my age — to share thoughts and answer questions they might have of me and I of them.
I should explain something about visiting these islands. There’s great history and tradition here. Respect is a must. As we approached each island, the village children would race to the shores to greet us; and although this was a welcoming site, we still had to approach the chief of the village bearing a gift — kava, best described as … I don’t know how to describe it; all I know is they sit in a circle for hours and drink it, having the time of their lives (I did get to put a little on the tip of my tongue to say I experienced it) — and ask for permission to enter.
Once the chief accepts the gift and accepts your explanation for the visit, he formally welcomes you. In one village, I met a group of girls my age and wanted to bring two back to the boat with me, but how to select only two was the question. When I learned that two girls, Sybol and Ella, needed medical care (one for something as simple as aspirin for migraines and the other a more complicated illness), the choice was easy and they returned to the boat with me. We giggled together for the next few days.
As you can see, I had such a wonderful time with the people of Fiji. Going there knowing what I was sort of doing ahead of time still only prepared me a little for what I was actually in for. As soon as I got there, I was a busy little beaver. It was definitely worth it in the end.
I’d advise everyone to at least once in their lifetime experience a little of what Fiji has to offer. My gosh it is amazing — and may I add so rewarding!!!!!
I have always been interested in helping people ever since I was a little girl — or, I should actually say, littler than I am now. I guess you can say it came to me rather than me coming to it (like singing). When I was little, I would give money to the homeless, participate on an outreach committee, and then eventually became president of the outreach committee. Helping others in need just gives me so much pleasure and satisfaction; it simply just makes me feel good to know I’m giving back a little and using my time wisely here on Earth.
My intention was to create a foundation that allowed me to provide the much-needed educational and medical demands of the islands of Fiji. I have many ideas and many projects in mind for
The Jazmin Fund and helping the people of Fiji. My main goal, since this is a new fund, is to get the most important things started first. We’ve already donated thousands of prenatal vitamins, pro-vided a rooftop water-collection system for a remote island that has a water shortage, and provided simple things like school supplies. I’ve also had discussions on how to improve some of the more important buildings in Fiji, such as medical and educational buildings. We’ll provide tables and chairs for the classrooms, and this summer there are plans to build a schoolhouse or community center for the children, with the children of the village participating in the building of it, then having them paint whatever they wish on the side of the building — a moment in time that they can point out to their children and their children’s children.
The youth center would provide a place for children to get away for a little while: a place to do their homework, play, hang out with friends, make music, listen to music, or just relax. This felt like a great idea to me, because in the villages we visited, there isn’t really anything like this that young people can call their own. So what better to create than this?
I was thinking of building it pretty much from scratch, going over there this summer and bringing a couple of my friends as volunteers who would like to help and share the wonderful experience with me.
I was thinking of making it colorful on the outside and artistic like a mural and have the kids in the village help paint it if they want and put a little design on it so in the end it will be art and a cool place to be — their place. I would love to dedicate it to the children. Of course, if the adults would like to use it, OK, but it would be mainly for the kids.
Leaving Fiji was very emotional, and I cried a little. I was sad, but happy at the same time. I knew I had made new friends in Fiji and would be returning soon.
I want to thank everyone who has donated to The Jazmin Fund. I’m truly grateful, and you can be assured that the people in Fiji are too.
Lots of love and Bula!
— Jazmin Grace
(Bula is a Fijian greeting meaning “Life!”)
See a photo gallery of Jazmin’s trip to Fiji and learn more about the Jazmin Fund. Click here.
One dollar from every April 2007 issue of Palm Springs Life purchased will be donated to The Jazmin Fund. Purchase here.
Photography By Taili Song Roth
Fiji Photography by Chris McLennan Photography Ltd.
Fashions for Palm Springs Life photo shoot by Lloyd Klein, shoes by Robert’s Fine Shoes of Palm Desert, and jewelry by DeLuca Jewelers of Palm Desert. Hair stylist: Joy Fields of J. Russell Salon of Palm Desert. Makeup artist: Chip Tuvman of J. Russell Salon. Location: The Bighorn Golf Club residence of Marvin and Charlie May of Vancouver, Wash.
Produced with the assistance of Theresa Maggio, Susan Stein, and Jay Jorgensen.