A classroom activity on Girmit at Balata High School

For Fiji born Indians and their descendants, Girmit has played a significant role in shaping their lives. When Fiji became a British Colony, labourers were brought from India to work on sugar cane plantations. They signed up to a 5- year contract. Slavery was abolished in the mid1800’s. As a consequence, indentured labour contracts were the best way to go. Girmit was the name that the illiterate labourers (girmiteers) gave to their 5-year indenture contracts. For me, the sacrifices made by my girmiteer ancestors have shaped my life immensely…I was privileged to have stood on the shoulders of these giants. Working alongside the Fijian people, they created new and unseen opportunities for their descendants. We all have to understand our past to really have an appreciation for where we are going now and in the future. This video – Girmit and Girmiteers sheds more light this human trade. My son and I produced this about 15 years ago.

Within the year 9 English curriculum in Fiji there is a unit which focuses on Girmit. As part of an outreach project supported by the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan, students from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), designed, developed and implemented a classroom activity that explored Girmit through role play and drama. The team was led by Katie Whitehead and Aimee Halsey and supported by Zarina Shahbhan, Ramila Chandra and Jenny Nguyen. Prior to QUT students travel to Fiji, they developed an activity plan. Students at Balata developed story-boards, scripts and ultimately performed and recorded their role plays. Support of the principal Segran Pillay and the school community was critical in this task.

QUT students with Year 9B at Balata High School

QUT students with Year 9B at Balata High School

The QUT student team tackled a topic that they were quite unfamiliar with. Congratulations to Katie and Aimee for leading this activity and doing an excellent job. The evidence of the team’s work was highly evident when some of Balata students spoke about their work to the participants at the school’s open day. Their presentations spoke volumes about what they had done. Perhaps the most significant was the inclusion of a song sung by the late Mukesh (well known Indian singer)  – Chal akela, chal aklea. This song was inspired by Ramila and Zarina to encompass the musical talents of Balata students in this activity.  The lyrics sum up the journeys that were undertaken by the Girmiteers…they left their comfort zones and walked into the unknown. Perhaps the song also relates to the journeys undertaken by many migrants today. What was even more significant was that ALL the children joined in to sing. It demonstrated how the Fijian education system is making a positive contribution towards promoting multiculturalism in Fiji.

I hope that such an activity continues not only at Balata but also in other schools. Every day our stories of the world from the past gets diluted and twisted in the process. We have to preserve such memories and with ICT it can be done with ease…schools are a good place to start.

Here are students reflections of their experiences at Balata Hugh School.

Link to group website: https://kggroup82015.wordpress.com/ 

Aimee Halsey’s Reflections

Amy is a third year in the Bachelor of Primary Education program.

Amy with her students - sharing lunch

Amy with her students – sharing lunch

During our time in Fiji at Balata High School, there were many moments and experiences that have had a positive impact on my life and my studies as a pre-service teacher.  One significant highlight was being so warmly welcomed by everyone.  In addition to this, the hospitality shown to us throughout the week by Balata High School staff and students cannot be expressed in a few words.   This not only included delicious meals provided for us but also traditional dance and music performances that were amazing to watch and also be a part of.

The students at Balata High School were very friendly and by midweek our year 9A class had invited us to eat with them during lunchtime.  This encouraged me as I could see that during the short time we were there, we had built a positive relationship with the students where they felt comfortable to engage with us outside of our teaching lessons.

Link to the group website:

Katie Whitehead’s Reflections

Katie is a third year in the Bachelor of Primary Education program.

Katie and Aimee facilitating group discussions

Katie and Aimee facilitating group discussions

Teaching in a school in another country was something I had always wanted to do in my life so the opportunity of working at Balata school that the SEE project provided for me was a dream come true. Although it took a while for the students to get used to our teaching style, and for us to get used to their learning styles, the classrooms quickly became harmonious, engaging and fun for all involved. Our topic was foreign to both my teaching partner, Aimee, and I but supported by staff and members of the SEE Project, Zarina, Ramila and Vinesh we managed to teach a unit we were both proud of and believe had an impact on the students and their learning. This unit focused on the history of girmit and students were asked to develop scenes to piece together a story of a labourer from girmit. This topic was used as a focus to teach English through the structure of narrative and develop skills such as reading, writing, spelling and comprehension. The school community was very welcoming towards us and I truly felt like I was a part of it for the week. The cultural trips organised for us between Vinesh and Balata’s principal Segran Pillay, were eye opening. My favourite excursion would have to be to Naseyani Primary school: an inspiring school which I believe is doing an incredible job with what they have to ensure their students are receiving the best education they can provide.

There were two very special moments that I’m going to treasure forever from the week at Balata High School. The first one occurred on the Thursday, our fourth and final day of teaching. In this lesson, one of the activities was showing the students’ their work. The combined video ended up being approximately 10 minutes and all students in the room were transfixed on the screen watching themselves and their peers. It was a very rewarding moment for me, to see how proud the students were of themselves. The second moment occurred at the presentation at the end of the week. We asked some of the students to help us present our unit and experience to the education officials and staff of Balata High School and other local schools. One of the students, Riya, gave a touching speech about what her and her classmates had learnt this week and finished up by thanking Aimee and I for our time with them. Hearing a student so appreciative of what you tried to do for them, and seeing that the time and effort you put into a unit or a lesson had paid off was an incredibly special and proud moment.

Here is Riya’s speech:

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This entry was posted in 2015, Balata High School, History. Bookmark the permalink.

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