Arriving at Ratu Meli Memorial School for the first time is quite an experience. A glorious twenty minute boat ride across the water from base left me bemoaning the fact my commute involves being crammed onto dysfunctional trains and tubes in London along with thousands of other grumpy commuters every morning. A brief interlude follows the boat ride as everyone changes into their sulu; I spent two weeks trying to work out a successful technique for wearing mine but to no avail. A short walk up from the beach then takes you onto the school field but even before you’ve reached it you can hear the school children bellowing out tunes in Monday morning assembly with a joyful enthusiasm that I’ve simply never come across back in Britain.
After assembly began the real work; I’d been assigned to work with class seven (children aged 12-13) for two weeks with the main aim being to work one-on-one with those children in the class deemed to be in need of extra support, as well as leading classes in arts and crafts, music and PE, those being the lessons that all GVI volunteers are expected to lead. My first few days were complicated somewhat by the fact that classes seven and eight were being taught together in one classroom due to the class eight teacher being away on maternity leave. Whilst this made it that bit harder for me to get to grips with learning all the children’s names, it did mean I had the additional support of fellow GVI volunteer Carole in my classroom, who had already been working with class eight for the past couple of weeks. How useful this support was became immediately apparent on the first afternoon; as I sat there paralyzed with fear at the idea of having to conduct a lesson in arts and crafts having done no preparation at all, she came up with the masterstroke of getting the kids to make posters about how to use the new composting toilets that the school were about to open. The enthusiasm with which the kids set about this task made me begin to realise that, whilst this was still no walk in the park, there is a willingness to learn and cooperate with the teacher amongst the children that isn’t always as prevalent back home.
The most rewarding and yet simultaneously most frustrating part of the education program is working one-on-one with those kids that are struggling with their Maths and English. Rewarding, because you can get those genuine breakthrough moments like when one of them finally gets to appreciate that multiplication and division are simply the opposites of each other, and yet frustrating because you can’t help but feel that there is a limit on how much you can achieve with a struggling child in such a short period of time, which in my case was just 2 weeks.
My highlight of the two weeks I spent at RMMS was essentially any opportunity I got to play rugby with the kids. Within two days of being at the school I’m fairly sure every single kid in my class had demanded to know of me whether I played rugby back home and if I’d play with them later in the week. I duly accepted these invitations and quickly learnt what I had admittedly been forewarned about; with kids in Fiji, there are no rules in rugby. Someone who is on your team one moment will happily accept a pass from you the next and scoot off in the opposite direction if they so please. Even so, its great fun to be a part of and the relish with which they set about trying to tackle you means that your competitive nature inevitably kicks in as well.
My two weeks ended with my class providing me with a little tea party, which like every other meal laid on for us by local Fijians, was absolutely delicious. They also dazzle you with a departure song, accompanied by them swaying in time to wave goodbye. Fortunately though, I’ve spent my last two weeks back at the school working on construction projects so whilst my time teaching maybe over, the farewells have proven to be a little premature for now.
Tom Tyson – 4 Week Expedition Volunteer