Olivia Shaffer (Fiji 2017-20) of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, wrote a children’s book inspired by a boy she met while a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji
By Lisa Mitchell
Berksmont News| January 19, 2022
While living in a remote village, Shaffer became fast friends with her neighbors, a family with a 3-year-old boy nicknamed Ulu.
“Ulu and I became inseparable since the day I moved in next door. We didn’t understand each other’s languages, but we still connected through music, dances and laughing,” said Shaffer. “No matter what language someone speaks, smiling and laughter is something that connects us.”
After she returned home to Hamburg, she wrote a children’s book in dedication to Ulu. The book, “I am loved, I am worthy,” is written in “I am” statements meant to spark confidence and feelings of worthiness into the young reader’s mind, Shaffer said.
During her time in the Peace Corps, she lived in a remote village on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island, for two years. She later extended her service and moved to the capital city, Suva, to volunteer at Girl Guides.
She said that her Peace Corps experience was a rollercoaster of highs and lows.
“Looking back, I have rose colored glasses for the whole experience and wouldn’t change a single thing about it,” she said. “It was challenging, but everything that came out of my service was positive.”
Before joining the Peace Corps, she heard that the experience was referred to as “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
“I believe that statement holds true after my service.”
Shaffer was in an interior village volunteering at the school and in the village.
“The teachers at my school were amazing, which was a really good problem to have. The class I was supposed to be teaching was already being taught, so I didn’t want to take over if I wasn’t needed.”
Instead, Shaffer created a Pen Pal club for the class 7 and 8 girls (ages 12 to 14). The club focused on cultural exchange, friendship, and reading and writing in English as they wrote letters to Americans.
When her time in the village came to an end, Shaffer decided to extend her service for a third year in the capital city volunteering at Girl Guides. With the Girl Guides program, she led a Women in the Workforce Day where women of various career paths came together and talked about their career and education and how they got there.
Her Peace Corps experience changed her in many small and significant ways, she said.
A big challenge was she didn’t have running water during her time in the village, but she got by each day with rain water, filling up buckets at neighbors houses, and helpful neighbors leaving buckets of water on her porch.
“It made me realize how much I needed to depend on others to get by, and that makes me more mindful of how I can help others,” said Shaffer. “For my neighbors, it might’ve just been a small gesture to give me a bucket of water, but that water helped me do so much and I made every drop of it useful.”
Now back in Hamburg, she started a business revolving around essential oil use and education. Her business allows her the opportunity to travel to be able to go back and forth to Fiji.
“Now, as a business owner, my goal is to give 10% of profit to help people have access to running water.”
Her connection to Ulu was another big part of her Peace Corps experience.
She views Ulu as a nephew. He would come over to her house everyday starting with breakfast in the morning.
“He’d sit and watch me cook and then we’d eat together. Since he was a toddler when we met, we learned how to speak Fijian together. People in the village would joke that he started to talk with an American accent from listening to me speak Fijian,” said Shaffer.
When Shaffer left the village to move to the capital city, saying goodbye to Ulu was the hardest, but she had a peace of mind knowing she could visit whenever since she was only a few hours away. Then, when COVID hit, she had 24-hour notice and had to leave without saying goodbye.
“COVID messed up a lot of people’s lives and in the grand scheme of things, I’m just happy that he and his family stayed safe throughout the pandemic.”
She recently had the opportunity to return to Fiji.
“I feel like I never left and am SO happy to be back!” she wrote while visiting Fiji.
Writing a Children’s Book
“I decided to write a children’s book in dedication to (Ulu) to let him know how special, worthy, and loved he is.”
The illustrations, mostly based on real photos of Ulu, are by a friend and Peace Corps Volunteer Tamarra Washington.
“Since she’s also familiar with Fiji, the illustrations perfectly paint the image of the villages in an authentic and genuine way,” said Shaffer.
Ten percent of profit from the book is being donated to Ulu’s primary school and will be used for school supplies and books for the students.
“This is the same school I volunteered at during my time in the village and am in contact with the teachers and will be sending the first amount over as soon as Tamarra and I receive the royalties,” she said.
The book was written for early readers and is a story to be read to children before bed.
She hopes that the book empowers young readers to be confident in themselves and be okay with being unique and different.
“Positive affirmations are something that I learned during my time in the Peace Corps and by repeating positive phrases, I could really pull myself out of a funk,” said Shaffer. “I’m hoping the book gives young readers an opportunity to learn the power of positive affirmations from a young age and carry the words with them into adulthood.”
The book is written in simple sentences so the young readers can understand and relate to the message, she said.
Each page is written out as “When I am _____, I am *positive affirmation.*”
“I hope the book helps boost kids’ confidence while encouraging kindness towards others. I also hope the book helps parents become more self-aware of the self-talk they use towards themselves and their children,” said Shaffer.