“Going to Fiji had always been a dream, and David and I were able to go on our 20th anniversary,” explained Ann Cooper. “On that trip, God pierced my heart, and I looked beyond the lush resort into the backyard of the people, where I saw a poverty that kept tugging at me.
“Once home, I began to pray,” she continued. “I prayed for two years and God revealed the verses in Isaiah 42:10 and12: ‘Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim His praise in the islands.’
“A group of doctors invited our family on a medical mission to serve the people of Fiji in 2007,” Ann added. “Though neither my husband nor I are doctors, we knew God was leading us to go and help in some way. The very first day there I happened to share with a woman name Lois that I am a former kindergarten teacher, and I love children.”
Lois had a friend named Ana, who had been praying that God would bring a “kinde” teacher for her village.
“When Lois told me that Ana had asked her the night before I came how God was going to provide a teacher, I had tears streaming down my face,” Ann said. “I went to meet Ana. For the rest of that trip, while the medical team worked, I did kinde every day, and used whatever we had around us to teach. That was in July, and I was back again in September, which amazed everybody! Ellen Small was my first friend to go share in this adventure, and we used her husband’s golf bag to bring the school supplies.
“I’ve been 15-20 times in the last six years, and we’ve started 69 kindes,” Ann added. “People tell me I’ve done so much, but I see so many areas that need help. Fiji is a third-world nation; many villages don’t have electricity or running water. Fortunately, they aren’t starving for food, but they need better education.”
Ann and David Cooper, who formerly lived in Newport for 14 years, have three young adult children who have also gone several times.
Ann met with the Ministry of Education, who now helps her organize teacher training. School starts there when children are in first grade, but there is tremendous need for something before that. Ann explained that the earlier children start school, the more likely they’ll catch that passion to learn, and hopefully stay in school after 8th grade.
“Our vision is to send teams of educators to Fiji to share, train, teach and provide,” Ann said. “We train teachers, who are mostly mothers, from six villages at a time to set up their Christ-centered kindergarten programs. They come to a week-long orientation and hands-on training to learn the essentials. They also receive a complete Kindergarten in one self-contained bag full of school supplies, learning games, books, manipulatives, and resources for teachers and students to begin their own kinde.”
“Plus we help with hygiene by bringing toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children to learn to care for themselves at school, where perhaps a toothbrush would be a luxury item for parents to buy, ” Ann added.
In 2008, Fiji Kinde Project became a nonprofit organization, and schools, churches, and sponsors are adding their support. Pepperdine University now includes it as another destination for students’ educational trips. Many of the Coopers’ friends have volunteered, and paid their way, for a team trip. Newport participants are Kristi Bjorkman, Elizabeth Chapel, Nancy Fry, Devon Kelly, Linda Lawler, Terri Lawson, Paul and Kath Neff, Marilee Schneider and her daughter, Allison, and Ellen Small and her daughter, Natalie.
“I have a teaching background and a love for Christ and sharing Him with others, so it was a perfect fit,” Marilee said. “I also love Ann, and have gone three times. The children are the future, but it’s the teachers who have the potential to introduce them to the love of Christ. My daughter Allison also had the opportunity to go, and she loved it!”
Terri was also thrilled to go.
“I’d always wanted to explore Fiji,” she said. “But mostly I went to help spread Christ’s love. The people are very joyful, simple and grateful. I was able to share what it meant in my life to give my heart to the Lord, and I gave them the opportunity to do so as well. I was blessed so much more than I blessed them.”