Taking her passion to Fiji

Published 10:04 pm Friday, June 11, 2010

Staff Writer

One Beaufort County native embarks on a journey halfway around the world to help rebuild a community.
Juliana Miller is a Peace Corps volunteer living on Ovalau, a small island in the Fijian islands. She is helping raise money to repair a community hall.
Though she has been raising money for several months, she has yet to reach her goal. Miller is trying to raise $3,550.62, and she needs to raise $1,919.62 more in order to complete repairs to the community hall.
“I’m trying to find ways to raise awareness and receive donations so that we may start the project before the next cyclone season starts,” Miller said. “Once the project gets going, it should only take a month and a half to complete the refurbishment.”
Miller’s mother, Debbie O’Neal, a Beaufort County resident, said she did not really understand the depth of what needs to be done on the island until she visited her daughter and the village in which her daughter is residing last month.
“I saw the community hall, and it really does need help,” O’Neal said. “But the biggest issue is that this can help build a foundation for a variety of ways for the village to improve their quality of life. I was amazed to see the homes and how primitively they still live.”
Miller left in May 2009 for a 27-month-long committed service to the Peace Corps. As the first three months were devoted to training and learning the language of her destination, the remaining two years are spent on site. In her case, Ovalau.
“Fiji is made up over 300 islands, and she [Miller] is just east of the main island,” O’Neal said. “Juliana is a marine biologist and took the position with the Peace Corps to environmentally help the village.”
O’Neal said although the Ovalau children live on an island with a beautiful beach, they don’t know how to swim, and Juliana is teaching them how. She also is teaching them to snorkel and about the reef and marine life in the area.
“She’s gone out and cleaned up on the reef by finding bags, clothes and things like that on the reef,” O’Neal said. “She’s also working in the schools and teaching geography.”
As an undergraduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a graduate student from the College of Charleston, Miller has ventured off into various parts of the world, starting with a summer abroad in Spain, then a semester abroad in Ireland, to spending six weeks on a research vessel in Antarctica when she was in graduate school.
“She’s always been an explorer and wanted to travel and see the world,” O’Neal said. “And she wanted to go into the Peace Corps when they visited her campus at graduate school.”
A marine biologist by profession, and now an environmental resources manager, Miller is living in a small tin hut with a grass roof. Though she does have running water, the water she has is cold. Miller’s hut has sand floors with mats that the village women made to cover the sand floor.
“She has bugs and frogs that always come in her hut and sleep in there with her,” she said. “It’s pretty crazy, but it’s what she wants to do right now.”
Miller does have a laptop, but there is no Internet access where she is. It’s a two-hour walk to and from the nearest Internet cafe. So, sometimes she doesn’t have any communication with the outside world.
As part of the program and their commitment to Miller, the villagers have to work with her to identify projects in the village that they want done. Miller’s project is to refurbish the community hall, which was previously built by other Peace Corps volunteers in the 1970s.
“Fiji is really big into rugby, so their island gets a lot of rugby tournaments coming through,” O’Neal said. “So, they have to house them and have to have areas to place them when they’re there. So, they want to be able to use the community hall as a sort of dormitory, a place to hold fundraisers, a place for a school and more.”
Each project participant is required to raise a portion of money, and Miller’s portion was to raise $3,550.
“One of the things she has taught the kids is about s’mores,” O’Neal said with a laugh. “She has these little villagers, and the kids can’t wait to make s’mores. To me, that is such an American campfire thing.”
To help with the community-hall project and donate money for it, log onto www.julianamiller.blogspot.com. E-mail may be sent to Miller at juliana.r.miller@gmail.com.