Letters From Kiribati

Helena Charlesworth from Tasmania is working as an English teacher at Sacred Heart High School, Tarawa. Helena has previously volunteered for Palms in PNG and Tanzania:

Greetings from a Pacific traveller! I’ve just returned from a nine-day trip to the world’s largest coral atoll, Christmas Island (spelt Kiritimati in Gilbertese language). I was part of a team of five teachers who went there to lead a workshop in the teaching of English for teachers there. We had already done the workshop earlier in December – two days for Tarawa teachers, followed by five days for outer island teachers. Then to Christmas Island, via Fiji, arriving in the early hours of Boxing Day and starting work that same day. Just over 30 teachers attended, some coming in by boat from other islands. While there we also gave two days to meet with Primary School teachers, again in connection with the teaching of English. (The workshops were actually for Junior Secondary teachers, Forms 1, 2 and 3).

Other team members were Selephina who works at the Tarawa campus of the University of South Pacific; Bibiana (our leader) who is in charge of the English curriculum at the Education Department curriculum unit; Benadetta who is the principal of Kiribati Teachers’ College here on Tarawa, and the only man of the group, Burataake, who is a Junior Secondary School teacher and also English exam moderator. I was the only one of the team not connected with the government Education Dept. (I come under the Catholic Ed. Dept.)

Our accommodation on Christmas Island was interesting; a local “motel”, it comprised three two-bedroom units, each of which was made of bush materials – palm branch roofing, walls made of 25mm wide “boards” held together with string! The separate shower room had both walls and roof made of palm leaves and the floor was simply a thick layer of coral stones over which hermit crabs clattered their way, dragging their shells, at night. I counted 16 crabs one night. The only furniture in the motel was a school desk and attached bench. No chairs, no table, no shelves; the mattress on the floor; there were no windows – only open spaces – a couple of sheets were pegged up to keep some of the wind out; privacy was pretty well non-existent! We ate at a picnic table under a pandanus tree and the only cutlery were spoons – the same when we visited some of the team’s relations there for meals, so I got quite adept at eating with my fingers: try eating a sausage with a spoon and nothing else! For the first couple of days our breakfast was merely a loaf of bread from which everyone broke off chunks; margarine appeared the second day and that was good, and on the third day I felt quite civilised when a breadknife appeared and we could cut slices!

One morning one of the teachers who attended the course brought breakfast along for us: grilled fish; mountains of rice; soup; a root vegetable; noodles and cupcakes! I managed one fish which was delicious and also so filling that I didn’t need any lunch! The motel proprietor brought a thermos of hot water two or three times a day, and cold water was also provided all the time. Left-over food was given to her to store away until the next meal!

Selaphina and I saw the New Year in sitting under a star-studded sky on the beach, with the only sounds being the breaking waves, and watching a few sky rockets that someone was shooting up in the distance. It was a most enjoyable half hour or so.

On New Year’s Day we went with the teachers (2 trucks and 1 car) for a picnic. We travelled a long way until we reached some salt lakes – the edges were white with salt; that’s the day we then went on to Poland. The picnic on another beach was pleasant, with everyone sitting in a circle on the ground around the food. Fish (cooked and raw), rice, noodles, sausages, some potatoes and various other foods were on the menu. Then when eating was finished there was some singing, followed by speeches – gatherings here tend to be quite formal.

All in all, my time on Christmas Island was quite pleasant and interesting, and every night I slept really well on my mattress on the floor with the constant wind blowing through the room.

When I returned to Tarawa my house was fine and so too my new kitten. It seems we’ll have a Canadian teacher and an Australian teacher joining us this year, so the plan is to add a bedroom to my home. It will be a crowded kitchen/living room, but it will be nice to have company, although I’ve been very happy this past year on my own. We have a big year ahead, especially in the English dept. at school. Examination results have been poor, extremely so, therefore we’ve got the challenge of trying to raise the standard.

I hope you liked reading about my experiences.