Vanuatu, Chantel

Chantel Volunteered as a Teacher In Vanuatu

Having reached the end of my placement, I can safely say that working on Tanna Island has been the most rewarding and profound experience of my life. From my very first day I knew that these six months would have an intense effect on me forever.

Having recently graduated, with a degree in Media and Cultural studies, I have no formal training and little experience in teaching. However the experience I do have, plus my education teamed with my willingness and desire to help made me able to use my time on Tanna productively, gaining positive results. On the first day the school compound was full of excitement and nerves, inside the classroom, made from bamboo and coconut leaves, there was nothing but a tired old blackboard and bench. No register, no paper, no chalk and no plan! There was nothing more than us, the children and my initiative and the first lesson was amazing.

At break time none of the children wanted to play; they just wanted to learn, we had to force them to go outside. I managed to adapt my skills to teach primary English, maths, nutrition, agriculture, social sciences, as well as other subjects. Education is quite new in Vanuatu, and there were many children who couldn’t write their own names or recognise letters of the alphabet or numbers. So I set up extra classes for the kids who were struggling and gave up my evenings and Sundays to teach basic computing skills to adults. I also ran a holiday computer school for a group of children living in the ‘bush’ where there is no electricity or running water and generators are out of action more often than not.

It is the case that many, if not all, of the children I worked with are still illiterate to a degree, but all made improvements, even if it was as little as being able to write their own name and identify the letters in them. The gratitude the community had for me was far more than I ever expected. Listening to speeches made by parents, teachers, students and friends telling me that I had helped make important parts of their history was overwhelming and the gifts of custom value I received will be treasured the way they deserve to be. I never realised just how much difference I could make.

At times I complained that I was being taken for granted, people weren’t recognising the things I was doing for the school, I was going beyond my call of duty and it wasn’t being acknowledged or appreciated. I was wrong. Maybe they did take me for granted and I the same with them, but that’s just because they accepted me as one of them. I was an intrinsic part of the community and I embraced this, their problems became my problem, their island mine, their national anthem mine. I claim it all. It was, is, my life.

It was not until I was taken out of that world that I realised just how extraordinary and special it was. Everything that became ordinary and second nature isn’t anymore. Everything I had there I had taken for granted; the closeness to nature, the simplicity of life, the humbleness of the people and their never ending hospitality. Whilst in that world I never took the time to really look at it, to step out of it and become an observer, if I had done so maybe I would have realised sooner just how perfect it was.

Knowing I can’t go back to that moment when everything was perfect is so hard. I’ve never wanted to go back in time so much, to relive that experience again, to have it never end. But you can’t go back; you can only go forward in life. What I had was a once in a life time experience that I will cherish forever. All the memories I have of that time are full of happiness and an acceptance of myself.