Believe it or not there was actually a specific purpose to travelling to the other side of the world. As well as enjoying the island paradise which I have found myself on, I will also spend the next six weeks travelling in between three schools on a voluntary basis.
Now two weeks in, I have learnt a lot about the school environment in this very specific part of the Pacific region. The three schools I have been travelling to with two other volunteers are all located on the largest of the Yasawa Islands, Naviti.
From Monday to Friday, we embark on a small boat which takes between 30 minutes and an hour to reach Naviti. This depends on which school we are visiting, whether we need to do errands and the weather conditions.
I have found the boat ride a very enjoyable experience, feeling the cooler air on my face as we speed between the islands. However, a choppy day last week has confirmed that my stomach and I are not fans of rolling and pitching when the waves get slightly larger.
Most days we will visit Naviti Elementary School, a compound which has faced many challenges after a monsoon paid a visit a few weeks before I arrived. With children up to Year 8 attending you would presume there would be eight classrooms.
Unfortunately these buildings were torn apart by the high winds, forcing the teachers to set up tents. These temporary classrooms make it very difficult for the pupils and teachers, as temperatures often rise to 30 degrees plus.
Even more recently these tents were blown down and flooded by a short storm while we were here. This had resulted in two days off school at the start of the week, before six classes were forced into the teachers’ accommodation to study, while the other two remain in the tents in a muddy field.
When we visited the school earlier today we were lucky enough to sit through assembly. During the headteachers’ remarks he thanked the children for showing up to school despite the challanges they were currently facing.
Prayer was also said before he reminded pupils that they needed to follow the strict dress code which dictates that knees should be covered at all times. I have also been following this dress code, wearing a sulu (or sarong).
Going into the volunteering I wasn’t sure what my role would but I thought it likely included helping out in the classroom. Instead, pupils come up to a building set aside for “Vinaka Fiji” volunteers.
This base has many resources that have been donated to the organisation and when the pupils visit we will usually spend one-on-one time with them for 25 minutes. This time is spent reading or teaching them English words that they might not know.
This can be quite challenging with the younger pupils especially because they will usually speak Fijian at home and when with their school mates. There is definitely more translation included than I was expecting. I was also saddeed to find out the reason they put their hands over their heads when they get a question wrong.
The base is located in Yasawa High School which is on the same campus as Naviti Elementary. This is the school we will visit when the elementary is closed. Pupils start high school in Year 9 before leaving in Year 14, often for the mainland.
Although it wasn’t as badly affected by the monsoon, older pupils face many other challenges. As the only high school in the Yasawas, boarding is offered to pupils, a amenity that it has to fork out for itself. Pupils who board are woken at 5.30 every morning before being put to work in the fields until 7. School starts at 8am. Not the easiest start to a school day.
For many pupils who don’t board it is equally as difficult as they leave home at 7am to make a difficult hike over the mountain from their villages on the other side of the island. They must walk up a steep ascent and descent which I can imagine becomes treacherous after heavy rain. Having caught a glimpse of the route, it doesn’t look like a track I would want to tackle bare foot or in sandals. A reality for the students.
We do similar activities with the high schoolers when they visit the base. Some have good English while others struggle to even write a sentence. These students can be very difficult to work with, but slowly reading through a book with them can be rewarding as they start to pick up new words.
On Fridays, or when the weather is too stormy, we visit Apensia Memorial School located in the nearer village of Soso. This is another elementary school of around 80 pupils set in a background of two foliage covered hills. Two rugby posts made of bamboo add to this stunning setting.
Inside the school building there is three classes, with the youngest students hosted by a nearby building. “Vinaka Fiji” doesn’t have a base here, so we sit on the floor of the school office when reading to the kids.
In the last couple of weeks we have focused on learning rhyming words, with a large collection of Dr Zeuss books coming in handy. Intrestingly the children at this school seem to be much further ahead than the ones we work with at Naviti Elementary. This is surely a result of the many challenges that the Naviti students face on a daily basis.
Friday afternoons at Apensia are fun as they are set aside for “organised” sports. This includes kids of all ages running around throwing rugby balls and footballs, while showing why the Fijians are known for their offloading skills even at a very young age. I try to take part even if trying to pass three balls to like 15 children at the same time can be challenging!