A Second Home in Kiribati

A Second Home in Kiribati

Experienced nurse Sue Bartlett is volunteering with the Kiribati Catholic Education Office to improve the health of local students. After a brief trip back to Australia, Sue reflects on the last four months in her new home.

My name is Sue and I am a volunteer with Palms Australia working at a high school in Taborio, North Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas).

I arrived here towards the end of February to work as a school nurse. It took six months from my first initial inquiry to Palms Australia, following an item I read in my local church newsletter,  to prepare me for my placement. That time was well spent with interviews,  an orientation course and an opportunity to meet other people who had been volunteers through the organisation.

I arrived in South Tarawa feeling tired and unsure if I had made the right decision in coming here. My first impression of South Tarawa was not good, and as I was only there for two days before I set off in the school motor boat with my luggage and fridge (which I needed for medications I take) to North Tarawa, it didn’t change then. I was greeted by the principal and half a dozen students who carried my belongings to my new home. I had been given a flat which, although basic, the nuns had gone to great trouble to make welcoming. I had a proper bed, a ceiling fan and a bathroom; it was as good as a palace to me.

My first impressions were of a picturesque tropical isle; trees, lagoon on one side and sea on the other, and local huts. However, on closer inspection it was clear the school was struggling to provide a thorough education to the students under very difficult circumstances. I don’t think the students realise how fortunate they are as the school and the Education Ministry are trying to give them a complete education that includes formal schooling as well as traditional culture.

The second week I was in Kiribati I managed to come down with the local gastro bug and instead of the nurse looking after the students and staff they had to look after me, which wasn’t part of the plan at all. In retrospect I think it helped the school community accept me, especially as they took great interest in my weight loss!

Over the following months, on my infrequent visits, my impressions of South Tarawa changed. I could see past the overcrowding to the improvements being implemented wherever I went. Every visit I can see changes happening for the better.

I have just returned from a visit home to Australia during the term holidays to catch up with family and to undertake some studies needed to complete my work here in Kiribati. I was welcomed back to Kiribati like a long lost friend, and I feel like I have returned to my second home. I can’t wait to put into practice the things I have learned in the last few weeks.

You can find out more about Sue’s placement and support her work here.

Photo by John Bradley