Zoe’s reflections of her engagement in two primary schools in Fiji

Zoe Smith graduated with a Bachelor of Primary Education degree in 2013. Currently she is enrolled in the of Master of Education program at the Queensland University of Technology. Zoe addressed prospective QUT students who were planning to participate in the outreach program at Somosomo District School this year. This is her address to the students:      

Zoe with one of her mates in the village

Zoe with one of her new mates in the village

Hi my name is Zoe and I graduated last year (2013) with a bachelor of primary education. Currently I work 2 days a week at Buranda State School in a 4/5 classroom and study my masters full time at QUT. Today I’d like to share with you some of my experiences from the trip to Fiji last year.  At the beginning of last year I was sitting in Vinesh’s lecture at 8am and he quickly mentioned about a volunteer trip to Fiji to implement technology into schools. I was sitting next to my friend Courtney and we both agreed it sounded great so we went along to a meeting expecting the whole cohort to be there but much to our advantage there was only 4 of us at the meeting. Fast forward a few weeks and Courtney and I were selected to go to Fiji, as part of a group consisting on 2 education students, 2 engineering, 6 film and tv and 2 fashion design students. An interesting bunch of people when put together had the most amazing 2.5 weeks. Those 2.5 weeks were some of the best weeks of my life and I’m so grateful to have been able to experience what we got to because no tourist would get the chance to do what we did.

Traditional dances - an admirable part of the Fijian culture

Traditional dances – an admirable part of the Fijian culture

I knew prior to leaving that my time in Fiji would be life changing that would open my eyes to the world. What I didn’t know is that it would be challenging, exciting, not a holiday, mixed emotions of both happiness and sadness as well as strong friendships both with my fellow volunteers, your lecturers, but also the children and adults you will meet. I had done really well on my prac teaching before going to Fiji so I felt very confident in being able to deliver an engaging, challenging and fun educational experiences in Fiji, I was so wrong.

School assembly at Sabeto District School

School assembly at Sabeto District School

My first day in school started like this, I said that I would take grade 1 and 2 for the week in the two schools we were visiting. My first day I had grade 1, a class of 30 children and a female teacher. I walked in with 2 other students from different cohorts and was the teacher for the day. The children were excited and I was too. I said good morning and wanted to gauge how much English they knew. I said if you can understand me give me a thumbs up, if you can understand a few words put your thumb to the side and if you don’t understand me at all put your thumbs down. Well, I had 30 smiling faces looking up at me with no clue as to what I said. No one knew English.

Timoci and Epeli - students at Sabeto District

Timoci and Epeli – students at Sabeto District School

It got worse when the teacher wouldn’t look at me and didn’t translate for me. Maybe for cultural reasons I’m not 100% sure, but she gave me no eye contact. I remembered that 80% of communication is body language so hopefully the children will try and understand what I say. What I needed to do that day was to make up a dance and song for the older children in 6 and 7 to record on some video cameras the other education girl; Courtney was teaching them how to use. I had big hopes of making a great piece to be recorded when all I got out of one group was baa baa black sheep; not what I had anticipated. Moral of the story: Be flexible!!!!!

It is easy to make friends with the villagers

It is easy to make friends with the villagers

Forming relationships with the teachers and the village people is vital. I noticed when we were playing games out on the field, the teacher who wouldn’t speak to me was talking to a lady that I’d formed a connection with yesterday in the village, so I went over and had a conversation with them, it definitely helped. This moral: You have to get uncomfortable.

The smiles on the faces of the children was priceless

The smiles on the faces of the children was priceless

By lunch time, I was out of ideas and what I had planned wouldn’t work. I was sad and disappointed in myself. I spoke to Vinesh and he told me not to go back in. So I spent the rest of the after with the older children showing them how to use computers. A much better afternoon but I felt like I’d let myself down and when I’d heard that all the other students had the best day ever, I just cried and cried.

Students' interest and engagement made a big difference

Students’ interest and engagement made a big difference

Day 2: I was so nervous I couldn’t eat breakfast, very unusual for me. I knew today was going to be much better because the teacher was lovely, his name was Jim. I loved Jim. We got to school and 2 girls came up to me and asked me why I was wearing pants? Girls, take maxi skirts, women don’t wear pants. My day that day was filled with fun, laughter and I was actually able to teach. It was a great day.

What to expect when you go into Fijian schools:

-Large class sizes – one day I had 35

-Possibly children with learning difficulties

-A teacher being away sick and you taking the class all to yourself, they don’t have relief teachers

-No lunch or possibly a stick of sugarcane

-limited resources: Take everything you need, down to paper, rubbers, pencils! – Don’t expect all children to basic resources.

-Behaviour – more rambunctious and playful

Interesting foods at the local markets

Interesting foods at the local markets

What should you do:

  • Say yes, yes, yes
  • Be grateful, don’t complain
  • Be culturally appropriate
  • Have fun
  • Get to know one another, your lecturers and the people you meet in the village
  • Be helpful
Challenges both inside and outisde the classroom

Challenges both inside and outisde the classroom

Be prepared to be challenged. Experiencing what you will, your thoughts and opinions may change too. You may feel confronted hearing stories about the way people live, or what they have experienced and what you will see. I was confronted on my first day in Fiji at a cultural ceremony where I went into someone’s house to see a baby. The baby was wrapped up, lying on a concrete floor in someones house, which consisted of four walls and a concrete floor. How many people live in here I asked “8” was the answer. When I looked around, I saw that people were some of the happiest people I have ever seen and what I noticed was they had nothing, well compared to what we know. Fijians are some of the happiest, lively, fun loving people I have ever met.

Always warm and welcoming

Always warm and welcoming

After 2.5 weeks of sitting crossed legged so many times on floors, eating with my hands and living on ‘Fiji time” my views had changed. I am known to enjoy luxurious things. On the last day in Fiji a group of QUT students and I decided to go to the Sheraton for a swim. We lasted 30 minutes because we all felt uncomfortable going from a village where some children may only eat one meal a day to luxury. We were all begging to go back to sitting on a grass mat; never did I think I would utter those words. I know that each and every one of you will change in some way, mostly for the better and I commend you for taking the leap and not only changing yourself but changing the lives of many others. Congratulations. I’m so jealous of you all. I wish you all a wonderful trip.

Students at Sabeto Central School

Students at Sabeto Central School



This entry was posted in 2013, Sabeto, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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