First Three Months In Kiribati: A Photo Essay

First Three Months In Kiribati: A Photo Essay

with Philip Drew

Philip Drew began his Palms Australia placement as a Secondary Maths & Science Teacher/Mentor at the beginning of February 2020 at Immaculate Heart College [IHC], Kiribati. Philip shares regularly with supporters in his blog and is happy for us to piece together a few highlights of his first 3 months. 

Arrival – 5 February

Because of shallow waters our canoe pulled up in front of the village about 250m from the shore. This meant all the luggage had to be unloaded and carried ashore. Once ashore a short walk through the village and into the school compound.

Settling in: around the school – 14 February

Top left: The Mwaneaba for school assemblies (Traditional building for community gatherings). Top right: Classrooms. Bottom left: Boys putting the school boat into the water. The boat hut had been destroyed in a recent storm. Bottom right: Outside study areas with further storm damage.

Top left: A Buia at the back of the sisters’ house where you escape the heat and enjoy the shade and breeze. Top right: My home room on the first day. Bottom left: The weekly morning flag raising ceremony. Bottom right: A view of the village from the Mwaneaba.

Welcoming Ceremony – 18 February

On Saturday after the first week, the school held a welcoming ceremony for all new arrivals. It was held in the Mwaneaba. There was singing, dancing, speeches and lots of laughter, followed by a feast.

Mentoring at IHC – 24 February

Friday evening at 7pm I meet with three teachers (2 maths and a computer teacher) who asked me to meet with them on a regular basis to help prepare their lessons. We have met twice so far and they are still keen to continue. I have suggested a few different classroom activities and shown them a couple of my maths games and tricks to show their students another side to maths.

Teaching at IHC – 2 March

I teach Maths to the three Form 5 (Yr11) classes (5 Science, 5 Arts and 5 Commerce). My class sizes average around 40 and each group has 4 lessons during the week.

Mathematical expressions seem to provide a bridging language: writing 3 + 4, for example, can be understood without fully understanding what is being verbally said. The students are able to follow the worked examples on the board and generally are able to sort out what to do. Most are very good at asking for help or feedback.

Women’s Day – 20 March

Last weekend the school celebrated International Women’s Day. It began with an unauthorised 4.30am serenading of the girls (who were asleep in their Dorm) , by the boys. Before breakfast the boys formed a guard of honour for the girls as they walked from their Dorm to the dinning room. They then served the girls breakfast. The day concluded with an evening of entertainment by the boys for the girls in the Mwaneaba.

St Joseph’s Feast Day – 20 March

Last Thursday the school celebrated St. Joseph’s Feast Day. St. Joseph is an important Saint in Kiribati. The people look up to him as a strong, humble man – a model husband and father. Marching is a strong feature of the school and they have won inter-school competitions. On this day Form Groups compete against each other. For days beforehand, the students practice their marching including special novelty moves to make them stand out from their competitors.

COVID-19 – 20 March

Palms Australia have strongly advised its volunteers to seriously consider returning to Australia because of the Coronavirus. Flights are becoming less and less, and countries are shutting down.

At this stage there is no known infection in Tarawa, but yesterday all Australian Government staff and volunteers on South Tarawa returned to Australia. Sadly I’ve decided to do the same.

Roller Coaster Ride – 28 March

So much has happened over the last week. After deciding to leave, word filtered through that the Fiji Government was not letting anyone on a foreign passport enter Fiji.

A rumour [was confirmed] Tuesday afternoon that Solomon Airways would run a flight from Tarawa to Brisbane on Thursday. I booked and my seat confirmed. Wednesday afternoon the Kiribati government banned all flights. That was the end of it. It looks like I will be here for the duration.

Friday afternoon the official word came through – all schools were to send their students home immediately for the next 3 weeks. At first a lot of students cheered the news, but a sombre mood later developed. Boats were arranged and by Saturday midday all students had left the school.

Holy Week in Taborio – 14 April

Holy Thursday the Church recalls the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. As with all the Holy Week liturgies, this was well attended by the villagers who set up camp in the Mwaneaba for the week and others who traveled from the neighbouring village for each ceremony.

School resumes – 20 April

The students were expected back yesterday (Sunday) and classes resumed today. About three quarters of the students are here. The rest will turn up during the week. Outer Islanders usually are the last to arrive as the boats do not run as frequently as they do between North and South Tarawa.

Kiribati is still coronavirus free thanks to the government’s strict border closure.

Editors note: Fortunately, Kiribati remains Covid free and Immaculate Heart College is running as normal.

You can support the staff and students at Immaculate Heart College by making a regular or one-off donation to their project here.