College Initiative Helps School Children in Vanuatu

July 16, 2013 at 3:06 PM

BBQ at the Purdy's.jpgIn the first week of the July mid-term break, 14 of our Year 12 College students departed Auckland bound for Berg’s School and Day Care in Port Vila, Vanuatu as part of a week-long service initiative to help those less fortunate than themselves.

The Saint Kentigern students hoped to build relationships with the children of the school and to provide assistance in improving the school’s environment during their stay, all the while engaging in their own character values such as caring, humility, unity and generosity.

Year 8 Teacher, Mr Tony Arrol provides us with his recount of their memorable trip:

‘The school caters for 60 students from a preschool age up to nine years of age. As the school is not funded by the state it is forced to operate on the donations made by the parents of the students in attendance, which due to the socio economic status of the area in which it is located in is minimal to say the least. We arrived at the school on Sunday afternoon and were immediately aware of the assistance it required as the appearance indicated that of poverty. We were warmly welcomed by the staff and provided with a meal of rice, taro, fish and beef. The remainder of the day was spent preparing the rooms in which we would sleep in for the next five nights with sleeping mats and mosquito nets and also loading the many resources we had packed in our bags into the two classrooms. These consisted mainly of English and Mathematics resources that could be utilised throughout the week with the idea being that they would be gifted to the school on our departure.

Sophie and Loren teaching.jpgMonday morning soon arrived and with it the students whom we would become incredibly close to over the course of the week. At first they were reluctant to interact with us and referred to us as the ‘white ghosts’, however the Saint Kentigern students soon managed to break the barriers down through the use of basic games such as volleyball and well known children’s songs. We supplied the materials for a new fence to be erected to replace the barbed wire one that existed. Approximately 15 locals arrived and quickly dismantled the old barbed wire fence and also removed a hibiscus hedge with the used of razor sharp machetes. Just as quickly the new fence was erected providing a neat and safe boundary to the school grounds.

Tuesday saw the students working in the classrooms for most of the day. It was pleasing to see all of the students taking a variety of lessons mainly based around English and Mathematics in the morning then moving onto Science and Social Studies activities in the afternoon. As the children left for the day the students then began the first of their projects which was to spread the first of many truckloads of coral sand around the building, with the aim being to cover the muddy ground that covered the entire school yard. As it rained at some stage every day we were there, the coral sand brought welcome relief to both the children and staff who no longer had to deal with muds being traipsed through classrooms. With only two wheelbarrows and three shovels available, any object that could be used to transport or dig the sand was soon employed. That evening we all travelled into Port Vila where we had a meal then visited the Fruit Market which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We were amazed to hear that the people running the stalls actually worked in shifts and slept underneath the tables when not working.

Wednesday morning was again spent working in the classrooms once more focussing on English and Mathematics. The afternoon again saw the arrival of two more truckloads of coral sand which this time was spread around the playground at the rear of the school. The students also began painting the exterior walls of the classrooms as the bare timber walls were in desperate need of a coat of paint. Once two coats of white paint had been applied the students then set about the task of brightening up the walls even further by painting murals on them. One side quickly had pictures of sea life painted on it. It was pleasing to see the immediate effect this had on the many passers-by with many people stopping to watch or make comments such as ‘that looks a lot better, now it looks like a school’. Yet another load of sand arrived in the afternoon which again helped to cover more of the playground area of the school. That night we were all treated to an ‘island feast’ which was prepared by the teachers at the school and many traditional dishes were prepared for us. We were treated to crab cooked in coconut cream, chicken and taro cooked in an outdoor oven, fish and the crowd favourite manioc chips (which is the root of the tapioca plant).

Thursday morning saw some students working in the classrooms whilst others raced against time to complete the murals on the remaining three walls of the school. The other walls had pictures of children holding hands and the preschool rooms had numerals painted on it along with fruit which was evidently abundant in the area. As a memento for all who had been present and contributed to the painting each child, Saint Kentigern students and staff members all put their hand prints and wrote their name on the last wall to be painted. We also bought and put together two cabinets to hold the new resources and provide some well needed storage. To top things off we also had two more truckloads of sand arrive which enabled the entire school compound to be covered and therefore cover all the mud in which the children had to play in after it had rained.

Teachers singing farewell song.jpgAll too soon Friday morning arrived and with it a sense of sadness as this was to be our last morning at the school. After the traditional morning devotions had taken place the staff of the school made presentation to the Saint Kentigern students, girls were given sarongs whilst the boys were all given a small traditional wooden carving which symbolised chieftainship. The staff then sang a song which they had written specifically for us which saw emotions running high in all parties. The students from Saint Kentigern then replied by signing one of our well known chapel Hymns ‘Blessed be thy Name’. Once the formal aspect of the morning was over we spent the last two hours taking photos and interacting with the community through games and singing songs. This time also allowed the Saint Kentigern students to distribute the gifts they had taken for the children.

All too soon the time to say goodbye had arrived and it was a heavy heart that we loaded our gear into the bus. As the Saint Kentigern students assembled at outside the gate I asked them all to take a moment to stop and reflect on what they had accomplished in such a small amount of time. For all involved the experience will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives. Hearing one student say ‘I just want to rewind the week and start again, I had so much fun’ was testimony to the benefits an experience like this can have on our young men and women. The gratitude and appreciation we were shown was a humbling experience as a community who had so little gave us so much. With the pride they showed in their school and the benefits it gave to their children showed us that our hard work had been rewarded.

blue lagoon.jpgThe remainder of the day was spent at a local tourist attraction known as the Blue Lagoon where the students swam in crystal clear water before heading to our accommodation for the evening. As we were about to board the plane we were once again amazed by the community’s generosity as the staff and students arrived at the airport at 6:30am to say one last goodbye… and to give us one more taste of the local cuisine - manioc chips and baked chicken. ‘

With thanks to Year 8 Teacher, Tony Arrol

Back to News List