Taveuni is an island in Fiji. It is located to the east of Vanua Levu – the second largest island. When you come to Tavenui – you get the feeling that this is the way the world should be – crystal clear ocean, lovely coastline, clean air, lovely people and the list goes on. It is an island where it appears that humans and the environment exist in harmony with each other.
Nestled on the western coast of the island is the village of Somosomo. This is a chiefly village. Many prominent Fijian leaders lived in this village at one time or another. Perhaps the most notable is the late Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau. He was a former deputy Prime Minister and Fiji’s first president. The people of the village – well what I can I say. So welcoming and true ambassadors of the Fijian people.
Within close proximity of the Somosomo Village is the Somosomo District School. This year a team of 16 staff and students from the Queensland University of Technology spent a week at the school. They shared their knowledge to engage and educate the teachers and students and the community of Somosomo District School. In the process they developed new understandings about themselves and the world they live in.
In this project, a class set of second-hand laptops were donated to the school. This donation was made possible through the support of the Queensland University of Technology. As part of the project, the university students had to use this technology to showcase how it could be used in classrooms. The school’s library was also setup – so creating opportunities for students to read was also a priority. St Agnes Catholic Primary School in Brisbane, friends and relatives of the participants, made this donations of second hand books. Through crowd funding and the support of the Rotary Club of Wynnum, classroom resources such as stationery and science experiment kits were also purchased. The QUT team also donated tables to the library.
The journey to Somosomo began almost 9 months before the actual trip. An application for the Australian Government’s Short Term Mobility Program was successful. This set the wheels to Somosomo in motion. Students were selected from the disciplines of education, information technology, and design. Two students with backgrounds in engineering and nursing put their own resources together to travel with the group. Students worked in cross faculty teams to design and develop classroom activities that aligned with the local curriculum. It was critical that these activities showcased the use of ICT.
This project was supported by a number of faculties including the university’s international student services. We also had the support of the community in Somosomo. Our project was strongly supported by the Tui Cakaudrove – Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, the Mataqali Valelevu (AI Sokula) (village clan), the school head-teacher and the management. The Ministry of Education in Fiji also supported our work. Ratu Jone Ganilau – the secretary of the mataqali played a significant role in liaising between the team leadership and the school. One of our students from QUT – Ratu Eperneri Korovakaturaga Ganilau has strong family connections with the school and the village. His time and input steered the project in the right direction.
A significant innovation of the project was the SEE box. The school did not have access to the Internet. So the IT students addressed this issue through this invention. The SEE box creates a pseudo-online environment.
Getting the library resources, cataloguing them, and then recording the stock on a spreadsheet was a time consuming task. Luckily, we had the support of volunteers including our grand daughter – Gwenevieve who came to help.
By the time the team left they had a significant amount of freight that needed to be transported to Sososomo – this included 14 laptops, about 500 library books, science kits, stationery for the students and so on. Getting the freight across was a logistical challenge – all modes of transport(plane, bus, car, ship, trailer) played a role.
Upon arrival in Fiji and after a long bus trip from Nadi to Suva, we were greeted by one of the student’s family. The Korovakaturaga family’s welcome enabled all of us to experience the true hospitality of the Fijian people. Good food, good music, and good company set the scene for what was to follow.
The next day an 18 hour journey took us through the Koro Sea and onto the Island of Taveuni. The time on the ship created opportunities for the team to understand more about the local culture – especially about kava ceremonies. The crew on board the ship were also accommodating – they were keen to show us around.
Upon arrival on the island, the team offered a sevusevu to the Tui Cakaudrove – Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu. When people from outside engage in activities within the boundaries of Fijian villages, a sevusevu is presented to the head of the village. It is a small offering of waka (dried kava). After our sevusevu to the Tui Cakau, we were given his blessings and permission to proceed with the project as planned. A warm welcome by the villagers in the church followed by a welcome by the students made the whole team feel very much at home. The next five days of teaching was an experience of a lifetime for many of the QUT students.
Setting the library looked challenging. Given the context we were pleased that it was setup as planned. Before the team left students borrowed books for the first time. There was a buzz – quite unlike what we see in local schools. Students were actually excited to borrow books.
Throughout our time at the school, the local community ensured that we were well looked after. They provided lunch everyday. The teachers and students fed us fresh coconuts daily.
All good things come to an end. On the last day there was a showcase for the parents and the community. It was well attended and many parents were inquisitive about the digital technologies and the library books.
The farewell ceremony was a colourful occasion. The students demonstrated their cultural talents through dance and music. However, it was overlayed by moments of sadness and tears.
The experience has left a lasting memory in the minds of the all team members. Who knows we may be back one day to do more at Somosomo.