Sarah Maclean was an 18-year-old fresh out of school when she served in Fiji as a VSA school leaver volunteer 49 years ago.

Sarah Maclean baking Lautoka 1969 PS

Sarah teaching baking skills in Lautoka, 1969. The photo was taken by cameraman Bert Nervoot as part of the VSA movie about volunteers in the Pacific.

While she doubts whether she had any impact on Fiji, Sarah’s in no doubt that Fiji had a profound impact on her.

“I look back at my time in Fiji as a major experience in my life,” she says. “We can see now that the school leaver scheme was not a well thought-out aid programme. However, I was lucky. After all these years I’m still so glad I had the privilege to be invited into the lives of so many people in Fiji.”

Since that first assignment, she has returned to Fiji five times to visit friends she made while volunteering. In this article, she describes the changes in Fijian society she’s seen over the years – in race and culture, standards of living, traffic and what people wear.

Sarah Maclean 2018 PS

Sarah applying baking skills at home in Te Horo, Otaki, 2018.

She also reflects on the impact of that first assignment on her and how, despite the shortcomings of the school leaver scheme, it was to prove a formative experience in her life.