Arriving in Samoa

Arriving in Samoa

Richard Harris from Salamander Bay NSW shares the slightly daunting experience of first arriving in his placement, where he is volunteering as Electrical Instructor for Don Bosco Technical Centre, Apia, Samoa.

I have arrived in Samoa, Thursday 28th January 2015 at 5.15am on pleasant flight direct from Sydney to Faleolo. 5.25 hours air time with friendly, talkative, non invasive co-passengers. The Captain announced that we were in for a turbulent journey all the way due to cyclone producing low-pressure systems building in The Pacific, but we didn’t even bounce upon landing.

I had the usual Sydney Airport scenario:

Immigration – “11 months, that’s a long holiday?”

“Yeah, everyone else seems to be able to take a gap year so I thought I might take one as well.”

“Yes you’ve earned it. Have a good trip.”

Customs – “Whose laptop bag is this?”

I waved my hand, “Yes. That is mine.”

After re-scanning it I was requested sternly to remove the steel capped from the bag so opened it up, retrieved my pliers and cut off the cables ties securing them to the bag.

“You cannot take this on the plane” she demanded, waving the pliers in the air like a trophy.

“Yeah, no worries. Whatever you need to do – no problem.” She dispatched them into her contraband bin.

A finger beckoned me into the ‘Cone Of Silence’ for a full body scan, feet apart with my hands in the air as if I was in Midnight Express.

PHEW! Over that hurdle too.

As I was packing up my computer bag the man in front was having difficulties with the EXPLOSIVES SCAN so I was excused from participating in that show.

“We’re in” I breathed as the search for Gate 63 started.

Father Chris, Principal of Don Bosco Technical Centre, Alafua,Samoa, was waiting upon my arrival and was silly enough to take my surfboard bag, 27kg, 2.1m long, and escort me to his borrowed car while I marvelled at how dark it was at 6am in the tropics.

“Yes we have Daylight Saving in Samoa. Sunrise is about 7”.

With bleary eyes and some toast and coffee, I met the Father who heads the teaching of Brothers and recently ordained Samoan Salesian Priests living within the campus along with Mane, head teacher, and Junior, trainee teacher, from the Electrical Department. I then was shown to my living quarters and left to settle in and asked to “join us whenever you are ready or see you for dinner or tomorrow for breakfast”.

I walked down the road, and introduced myself to the local shop owners, had a snooze and started classes with Junior after lunch.

Everyone has been very polite, courteous, respectful, encouraging and helpful toward me and I feel welcomed, wanted and appreciated.

 Here we are. Talofa (hello) Samoa.

There are some great challenges for me, so far. Everyone knows my name, 20 or so staff, 180 students, but I still don’t remember most of their names.

The students are cheerful, interesting as individuals and respectful but are still teenagers with youthful eagerness and expectations and trust that I admire and value. I enjoy being a part of this school hoping to fulfil the expectations of the students, school and Palms Australia.

No surfing yet, no independent transport, only walked into town, Apia several times – about 30 minutes, lots of new friends already, some savage sounding and growling dogs along the way, tropical weather, cold beer at the end of the day.

I will keep you informed.

Good luck to Dianne & Phillip [volunteering in Timor Leste] on your new adventures. I wish you well and hope you enjoy your first encounters with the people of East Timor. Don’t believe all you see on the internet. The people will love what you are doing with them and accept all the kindness and generosity that they offer. I will keep in contact for as long as the internet is available, the power is available and my credit lasts.

I know I said I would send lots of photos, but can someone grab my camera from my kitchen bench and give it to me when they pass by Samoa.

Happy days and sweet dreams.


Richard will soon be joined in Samoa by his daughter Tash, no doubt with his camera!

And by the way, Head teacher Mane was trainee teacher working with our Executive Director Roger and Country Program Coordinator Christine during their placement at Don Bosco (1993-94). How good is that?