Only a few weeks ago Jayson Bukuya took a phone call from Clint Newton that would lead him back to his homeland and an unforgettable journey.
"It all happened pretty quick - Clint gave me a buzz at the end of October and asked if I wanted to be involved in a project he was working on," Bukuya said. "The chance to give back to Fiji was definitely one I couldn't pass up."
Fijian international Bukuya joined fellow NRL and NRLW stars Victor Radley, David Nofoaluma, Junior Tatola, Corban McGregor and Sam Bremner on the week-long "Transformers" trip, a program designed by Newton that integrates human aid volunteering and individualized holistic development.
In short, Newton wanted to help the players advance not only themselves, but the communities they interacted, to embrace the experience and to make the best of all situations they were confronted with.
The group visited local schools and villages, undertaking a number of painting and renovating projects as well as running sports clinics and lending a hand in the classroom.
Bukuya, currently studying a Cert 3 in Carpentry & Joinery at TAFE NSW, relished in the opportunity to further develop his skills whilst providing support to the Fijian locals.
"Putting my hand up to make a difference was something I was really excited about. To be able to put to good use the skill sets I've been learning with my carpentry, for those who need it most, was an unforgettable experience." Bukuya said.
"For me, I've grown up knowing and experiencing the Fijian culture my whole life, so to be able to share that with the others, as well as give back to my homeland was something really special,
"To see the impact we have on these communities, even in the few days we spent there, is truly amazing."
Along with helping out the community, the group also spent time exploring the surrounding islands, swimming in the beautiful waterfalls, swinging from the rope swing in the Colo-I-Suva Forest Park and interacting with all of the local kids.
"It was a really nice way to wind down the off-season, the locals have such an infectious love for life and happiness, and to put our hands up and make a bit of a difference in their communities was unreal" Bukuya said
"To see the group embrace the Fijian culture and in return, the communities really embrace us, it was a trip that I'll never forget."
Newton, who created the Transformers concept with help from strategic management and industry engagement professional Laura Steele, said the experience went well beyond what he had anticipated.
"I had high expectations of the trip because I believed in the people that we had involved with it, but it very much exceeded those expectations," Newton said.
"We did it as a group – everyone that come along chose to be there and chose to engage and participate in a way that made the program successful.
"I can't speak highly enough of the Fijian community. Everywhere we went they couldn't have been more accommodating – they gave us a helping hand and also educated us on their culture and their community, it was pretty special."