Long-term volunteer at Sacred Heart High School in Tarawa, Kiribati, Helena Charlesworth tells of the moment her students discover new worlds; perhaps rediscovering a certain magic herself.
The secondary college where I work has run a reading programme – Drop Everything And Read or DEAR – for some years now.
I was given charge of the programme and it took a good amount of work to get it started and keep it going. The I-Kiribati students were not great readers and to sit and read a book for half an hour each school day was a big thing for some of them and even more so for most of their teachers! However, the students believed that doing so would help improve their English, so we persevered, albeit not without frustrations along the way.
For several months now this year we have had to contend with a great amount of noise at school, firstly from refurbishment and extension of the parish women’s centre and of the church, both of which border our school’s small property. Electric tools, cement mixers, hammering – it was constant, loud and at times very harsh noise.
At the same time, on the other side of the school a hundred or more Catholic youth lived and practised for several weeks in the parish maneaba (open hall) in preparation for their annual Singing and Dance Festival (competition between the parishes is definitely fierce each year!), and as soon as the youth had vacated the maneaba the parish catechists and their families moved in. For both groups, their well for washing and laundry is right outside my classroom, as is a path to the lagoon, so there’s been constant noise and to-ing and fro-ing. All in all it’s been an extremely noisy year. Yet, in spite of all those distractions, our students have been remarkably calm.
One day last week, I sat as usual with my Year 12 Arts class as usual at DEAR time, enjoying my book. After a while I became aware that not only was there total silence outside, but there was a beautiful silence and stillness inside the room. I looked around and marvelled at what I heard and even more at what I saw. Some students were still sitting at their desks; others had slid down onto the floor, some lying on their stomachs, one girl under her desk, a couple of others lying on their backs, heads cradled on school bags, AND EVERYBODY WAS COMPLETELY ENGROSSED IN THEIR BOOKS. I watched for quite some time and there wasn’t a movement from any of my 27 students! The only sound in the room throughout the whole half hour was an occasional quiet chuckle from one girl who obviously had an amusing story. It wasn’t the silence from outside that attracted my attention: it was the silence and stillness inside the room and the students’ total absorption in their books. It was truly a magical moment to savour and remember.
Long may these young people enjoy books!