Sue Ryan, a science teacher, lecturer and deputy principal from New Zealand is finding that volunteering in Kiribati is not as slow-paced as one might expect.
“The months have passed in a flash. I was thrown in the deep end, on a fast learning curve and have been running to catch up ever since. So between getting to know all the staff and four new classes of students, with names which are impossible to pronounce, the daily routines of school (an eight period day from 8.00am – 3.00pm) and the learning styles of the students, it has been a very busy two months.”
Keeping up with a busy work schedule, is not the only challenge she has faced, though a few lessons on the day-to-day differences from fellow Palms volunteer Helena Charlesworth are going a long way.
“Helena very generously shepherded me around the public transport system, the towns and shops for the first month. She has accumulated a large amount of practical and helpful information, which will never be found in any tourist or guidebook.”
In addition to tips on using public transport and where to get a good deal, Sue now knows the most important trick to shopping in the isolated nation.
“You buy when the ship comes in and when the stock is on the shelf. If you don’t do it then, you can be sure it won’t be there on your next visit.”
As she adjusts to her new daily routine, Sue also senses the excitement that accompanies any cultural event in Kiribati.
“I am told that Independence Week is taken very seriously here, so much so, that there is no school for that week and there are many public events scheduled to take place in the capital Bairiki. We shall all go up, to see the grand march past of the schools and various other organizations and no doubt to hear the speeches and see the president. I am hoping I will get to see the dances that I hear so much about.”
Each learning experiences is an important part of the Palms Solidarity Volunteer process of adjusting to one’s new context, getting to know local people and understanding what is important in their lives.
Further proving that one can never fully anticipate every challenge, Sue recently suffered a broken arm and was repatriated to New Zealand under Palms’ insurance coverage. She has now returned to Kiribati and continues her work at Sacred Heart College.