Grantsville’s Sierra Allen knows a thing or two about adventure.
The Grantsville High School senior embarked on a humanitarian trip to Fiji during the summer, helping the locals build restrooms in their homes. But that was only part of the experience, as she made new friends and gained perspective that she hopes will help shape her for the future.
The service-oriented trip was a function of Humanitarian Experiences for Youth, which is put on by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although it’s not a church-sponsored program. Allen said she found the program on the Internet, but she doesn’t remember what she typed into Google to find it. Once she found HEFY, as it’s called by members of the program, she decided that it was what she wanted to do.
Allen wanted to do a humanitarian trip after speaking with a girl with whom she had a summer art class.
“She went to Costa Rica, and I thought that would be kind of cool,” Allen said. “So I started looking for programs, but most of the programs were pretty expensive or just didn’t feel quite right.”
Allen found the program she wanted and started saving her money. Her parents were supportive of her going on a humanitarian trip and felt it would be a good experience for her.
She and the rest of her group arrived in Nadi, Fiji, at the end of July and stayed for a few weeks until the middle of August — just before school started. She and the others stayed in Nadi through the duration of their trip, but their service project took place in Sabeto, about a half hour away. That’s where they helped the locals build restrooms and septic tanks.
They were separated into smaller groups and assigned a family to help. Allen said the family she was assigned had a fun dynamic.
“There was this old guy who said ‘I know how to do it way better than a 17-year-old girl, so get out of the way,’” Allen said. “So you really had to say ‘No, it’s OK. I can do it.’ Then we had a couple of middle-aged guys who were really fatherly and making sure we were OK and wore our gloves. And then we had a couple of teenage guys who were always hanging around and just being dumb. They had these little music players that were kind of like iPods but just a cheap rip-off of one. They were always playing those, but they only had, like, seven songs on them, so they just listened to those all day.”
Allen said the young children would come and watch the service project in progress.
“We’d be digging the hole, and they would just come sit or lift a rock out one at a time,” she said. “They were always taking our gloves, so they were always running around with these huge gloves with tiny hands. Whenever you didn’t have a shovel in your hands, they would always try and get you to play with them or just tackling you.”
Allen said she could feel the love and happiness from the people in Fiji.
“They loved so willingly,” she said. “You never felt like you were being judged. You could wave to anyone, and they would wave back. They were super, super happy. Going there, I expected to see poverty is equal to [sadness], but they’re super happy. It just made me realize that the material things don’t make you happy. It’s family, friends and relationships that bring happiness.”
Allen learned a few new things while in Fiji, including rugby, which she’s still not sure if she likes or not. One of her rugby experiences on the trip included a time when she played in the middle of the scrum. She didn’t like that part with the heads bashing together. But she did enjoy getting away from the rugby to go snorkeling and swimming.
The food had its ups and downs. She said there was a big feast at the end of the trip where she got to eat new things, but for the most part the trip consisted of a carbohydrate overload. She said they ate mostly bread and other carb-loaded foods while in Sabeto that didn’t make her feel well.
Her favorite experience was when the group visited a hospital one Sunday after church and were able to sing LDS church hymns to the patients.
“Our group was really into singing. We’d sing all the time,” Allen said. “So we got to go around to the different hospital rooms and sing to the patients. It was just really super peaceful and quiet. Obviously the patients there are hurting, so to be able to go in there, sing to them and help lift them up — it was pretty awesome.”
Allen’s perspective changed slightly when she returned home. She’s involved in a few extra-curricular activities at GHS, including the soccer team and the yearbook staff, and her time in Fiji helped her see the big picture.
“The great thing about the group I was with was that no one was everyone was so centered around service that no one was judging each other,” she said. “They could see you at your absolute worst like when your hair was a mess and you were all sweaty, but no one judged you at all. So just coming back here and people are so caught up in that and worried about what other people think, and it’s sad because it doesn’t really matter.”
Allen said she feels more confident since her return and that she’s able to “go with the flow.”
“I’m in a couple of different leadership things at school like yearbook, and when something doesn’t go right everyone goes haywire,” she said. “But I say ‘Just calm down. We’ll straighten this out, and it’ll be fine.’”
She said she also learned how to work in a team. She wants to serve a mission for the LDS church, and the Fiji experience also helped with that goal.
“There are a lot of different types of personalities,” she said, “and I realized you don’t need to be all of them to be the perfect person. You can be yourself and contribute because they need that personality. So just be yourself.”