By John Bradley, an experienced secondary teacher. John began his second placement with Palms (previously in Kiribati from 2001-2003) at the end of January 2023 as a Physics & Science Teacher / Mentor at Don Bosco College Salelolonga, Savai’i, Samoa. Below John shares wonderful detail of his first week of school.
Feature image: Year 9 students with John and Vicky, another Palms Program Participant.
We have completed our first week of school, and overall it went quite well. Certainly it is a different place with students in the school during the day – having spent two preparation weeks living at the school, I had just about run out of things to do in all the spare time.
The school is quite large, being on an enclosed compound of probably 3 hectares or so. There’s a school hall, rugby field, volunteer house, bus port, chapel, priests’ house and the school itself, which surrounds a large grassed square with a fale in the centre. There are about 12 classrooms, library and computer room around three sides, the fourth side has the offices, staff room and the technical training workshops, being hospitality, automotive, plumbing, metalwork and carpentry. As well as a secondary school (Yrs 9-13) this is a vocational technical centre, offering Cert I and Cert II courses. The school was built in 2011, and is still in quite good condition, though the tropical climate does take its toll.
I am teaching Physics Yr10,11,12,13, Chemistry Yr11 and Maths Yr12. There are two staff who are going to enrol this year to do Civil Engineering at Uni of the South Pacific, and they have asked me to help them with their Physics and Maths too, so I will be busy I think! There is not a huge number of students in the school, probably Covid has interrupted school (or ended it early) for quite a few senior students. Also the parents have to pay fees to send students here, whereas the government schools don’t charge fees. There’s only about ten students in Yr13 and twelve or so in Yr12. Only a single class of each of Yrs 9,10 and 11. Students in Yrs 10-13 choose an option from Arts, Commerce or Science, so classes in the seniors can be quite small. I have only two in Yr13 Physics, three in Yr12 Physics (all of Yr12 in Maths) and seven in Yr11 Physics & Chemistry.
School starts at 8:30 and we have six 45 minute periods with a half hour recess halfway. The school has two buses for picking up and dropping off students – one heads north up the coast and the other south. The first heads off before 5am so it’s a good (though early) alarm clock.
The volunteer housing consists of four units – like very basic motel rooms, with a shared kitchen/dining room in the middle. Cold water only, so if it’s been a cool day (we have actually had a couple of nice cool days!) the shower is a bit chilly at first. The kitchen is pretty good – especially compared to when I was volunteering in Kiribati, without electricity – we have a fridge, gas range, electric kettle, rice cooker and electric frypan. So it’s possible to cook quite well and keep leftovers in the fridge. In Kiribati I just had a single gas ring and a sink! It’s wonderful to be able to have a nice cold juice at the end of the day.
The school is located at the edge of the NewTown in Salelologa. Salelologa is a long thin town strung out along one road from the wharf where the inter-island ferry comes in. The New Town is in an area of cleared bush about 1km from the wharf, on the other side from where the old town is. It mainly features the market and the fish market, a number of shops and some offices and industries. Unfortunately there’s a nightclub too, which operates Thurs, Fri and Sat nights until about 1am. Although it’s about 600m from the school, it’s really loud here and requires closing all the town-facing windows, earplugs and white noise on the phone at max volume to drown it out. There are three churches close to the school too, with competing PA systems at various times during the week (rehearsals and services). It tends to be either really peaceful and quiet here, or really really noisy!
The three Salesian priests who live here at the school all work in the school and also run the local parish, which has three churches, so they work hard. One is principal of the school. I go to Mass with one or other of them each Sunday. Today after Mass, the priest took me for a drive about half an hour up the north coast road, to see the villages and the ocean. The people take great care of their gardens and houses. Some villages have plants lining the road, or coloured posts or flags. Most houses have a large fale in front, often painted in bright colours. There are churches every few hundred metres, and on Sundays lots of people dressed in white coming from or going to church. Overall it’s a picturesque scene.
The weather, of course, takes some getting used to. Very humid all the time, and usually 30-32 degrees each afternoon. At night it cools down to mid-low twenties. If there’s a breeze it can be very pleasant to sit outside, though the mosquitos can be numerous, especially at dusk. It’s not as hot as Kiribati, and I have a pedestal fan in my room which certainly helps one to sleep. I don’t know how I survived in Kiribati for two and a half years without one.
That’s the news for now. Below is a small sound clip of some of the singing at Sunday Mass. The singing here is just wonderful and uplifting. The recorded sound quality is not that great (being just the phone, and all the church fans are running in the background), but you’ll get an idea of the singing, and this is just at a parish church. When I went to the English Mass at the cathedral in Apia a few weeks back, the singing was heavenly. Their singing is certainly a highlight of the Samoan people’s culture.