A Field Trip For Confidence

On Monday, the headmaster at my school tells me sschool's cancelled on Thursday of this week for a teacher's workshop. However, he was also invited to be the judge of a speech competition at Central School in Port Vila. He wants me to go in his place and judge, and bring with me six students, two each from classes 4, 5, and 6,  because he wants to show students what a confident speaker looks like, and to inspire them to do better in their public speaking activities in class.

I inform the teachers to choose two students each that they think would most benefit. Junior and Trisha from class four, Stephanie and Tamalo from class five, and Emilson and Jennifer from class six are chosen by their respective teachers for being well behaved and for being students on the rise. The headmaster also wants his two sons, Marky (class 4) and Nemo (class 6) to attend, so he pays their transport and food for them to go, too.

The headmaster informs me that the event begins at 7am, and therefore we can't take the usual boats out off the island at 6am since they would cause us to be late to the event (the boat takes 20 minutes, and the bus ride is another hour or so). He also informs me that the new financial officer, Miss Nancy, will come with me and take care of the money for the transportation and lunch.

Junior, Nemo, Emilson, Tamalo, Marky, me, Jennifer, Stephanie and Trisha

On Wednesday afternoon, I remind the students to meet Nancy and me on the beach at 5am. We discover that Jennifer lives in the village far away from the school. If she sleeps at her house, the two options are to have her walk 45 minutes in the darkness the morning of, or have the boat run to get her first and make us wait near the school for an unforeseen amount of time.  Instead, the headmaster offers the option that she sleep at Nancy's house, near the school, along with the other two female students attending. We tell this plan to the group of students at school on Wednesday, and Jennifer is quiet at the proposal. The headmaster doesn't want to make the plan unless Jennifer is okay with it, but Jennifer isn't talking. This is normal behavior here in Vanuatu: people can get quiet when they are uncomfortable but they won't say why. I ask her what's wrong, if she is uncomfortable. She stays quiet. We wait a couple minutes with continuous prodding and questioning until she whispers to me that she is afraid of getting car sick in the bus to Vila. I tell her we will get her a window seat, but is she fine with the sleepover. She is, as long as she isn't the only student at Nancy's. I assure her the other girls will come, too. "It'll be a sleepover!" I tell her, and she gives an uncomfortable smile.

I walk with Jennifer to her village and we collect her things for an overnight stay. Her parents are fine with the last minute change of plans. Along the way back to the school, we also pick up Emilson, who also lives in this distant village. He will be sleeping at the headmaster's house with Nemo and Marky.

After walking Jennifer home and back to the school, it starts to get dark and I head home.

On Thursday morning, I wake up at 4:30am and head out the door at 5.

Since no one used an alarm, Emilson, Nemo and Marky awaken when I shout their names outside the house, telling them we're getting on the boat. They groggily stumble out of the house and wash their faces and brush their teeth. Nancy and the girls have already arrived at the beach, as have the other two boys, since they live near the school.

Arriving at the wharf just as the sun rises

We leave on the boat at 5:20 and immediately jump on a bus that is waiting for us at the wharf. We arrive in town an hour later. The town is just starting to bustle with foot traffic, but nothing is open except the bakeries.

We arrive at the school at 6:30, with not a soul to be seen. I tell Nancy that my guess is the event begins at 8am. She tells me that the headmaster wanted us here at 7. I say yes, but my guess is the event starts no earlier than 8.

Since the school is locked, we find a stoop outside the nurse's office and sit there. Nancy heads off to get a snack at the store. As we wait, a mother of year six student at our school comes by and shakes our hands; she is the canteen cook here. Another woman approaches, shakes our hands and passes Jennifer a small cake. She's a year 8 student's mother. This becomes a theme for the day, with random relatives of students from our school coming to shake hands, speak in language, and pass off food.

Nemo gets up and peeks in the empty classrooms. He and Tamalo are amused by the backpack hooks outside and take turns hanging their bags on them. Nancy returns 30 minutes later with kato, juice and cups.

We move to the picnic tables by the canteen and Nancy asks us if we want chicken or beef for lunch. Every student quietly stares at me, or smiles, and doesn't respond, so instead I directly go to each kid and ask what they want. We get everyone's orders but Jennifer's, who is refusing to answer. Nancy talks to her in language for about a minute, as Jennifer nods or shakes her head. "Beef," Nancy tells me.

kato and juice

Nemo asks Marky to throw away his orange peel for him. Marky doesn't move, clearly too afraid. Nemo tells him to find a trash can. He then turns to Emilson, who gives a similar reaction. Nemo, frustrated, stands up to do it himself, declaring, "Be yufala fraid lo rabbis o wanem?! (Are you afraid of the trash or what?!)"

It is now 7:20 and we are eating kato and juice. The event is not starting any time soon, as students are barely trickling in the school now. Our kids are staring at students arriving and gawking at the variety of students here, as Central school has both Ni-van and expat students, including those from China and Africa. Students here wear green shirts with an embroidered school crest on the front pocket, with white sleeves embroidered with green palm trees. I ask Nemo what he thinks of their uniforms, compared to ours (which are blue button up shirts and black skirts/shorts). He says he likes his own uniform better.

Marky watches a young Chinese boy put in an order at the canteen "Hemi stap karem pepa mani wan taem!" ("Look at him with his paper money!"...paper money is in value of 200vt or more, and children on the island rarely carry that large of a quantity of money).  I tell Marky that lunch here is 250, over twice that at our school, so it makes sense.

The school bell rings at 7:30, similar to the trill of a school bell found in America. A couple of our kids are confused. "It's the school bell," I tell Junior. "Here, they don't hit an empty gas tank with a metal rod...I think theirs is on a timer."

At 7:40, a young woman come up and shakes our hands, talks in language, then gives a bag of chips to Stephanie. Another woman comes to usher our group inside with Nancy, but tells me to wait for the other judges outside. As I sit there alone at the picnic tables, arriving students smile at me. At 7:55 a woman named Nora ushers me to the judges table inside, next to two other white women and a Ni-Van man. The folder before my seat contains a rubric and criteria sheets for each student.

As I predicted, the even starts at 8:15, when a year one student stands on the stage and silently raises her hand up. The crowd quickly quiets down as teachers and students also raise up a hand, indicating they're ready to listen. The girl announces in English that we will start with the national anthem and school anthem. Noticeably absent (for Vanuatu) is a prayer or hymn.


After a few brief speeches from the principal and MC, they introduce us judges. The MC then invites the year four girls to the stage to sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

We judge year three first, and it flies by. The students read poems that were published poems or original. The students make gestures to the poems, like making hand binoculars at the line, "What do you see?" After each brief poem, Nora takes our score cards, and after only six minutes and four poems, there is a break to tally the scores for class three.

"I'm in class TWO."

During the break, certificates are printed and prizes prepared. Nora come by with custard and lemonade for the judges. The break is brief; only a few minutes later, it is time to present prizes for year three. These four who presented are the finalists in their classes and all four receive prizes: a certificate, a book, a sandalwood seedling and to the first place winner, a giant chocolate easter egg.


The ceremony continues, with four students from each class, followed by a brief break and prize giving. Each round lasts no more than 15 minutes. The judges each give prizes for a round and they all give a speech afterwards, some lasting longer than the poems themselves. When I go to present, I thank the school for inviting me, wish the forthcoming speakers good luck, and then sit down.

Two more times during the breaks, he year four girls come up and sing. One song is pop/country song "My Church" by Maren Morris and another is Josh Groban's ballad "You Raise Me Up." The girls had issues getting on the right key for the latter song, so the music teacher came up and led them through the first verse to get them on track.

The last group is class 6 who present speeches instead of poems. The first kid kills it with animated gesturing and actions, ending his speech with "if we don't look after mother nature we will all be dead" as he collapses onto the ground to raucous laughter and applause. He ends up winning first place. The fourth presenter takes the mic off the stand and walks around the stage like a stand-up comic.

After the class 6 prizes, the principal, an Australian man, gave a speech and thanked everyone. The MC asked the judges to exit first, followed by teachers and students. The time now is just before 10am, meaning we made it through 24 presentations, some staff speeches and prize giving in 1 hour and 45 minutes. I was impressed by the efficiency.

Nancy's mom is a teacher here and gave us a brief tour of the school, and then we sit back at the canteen to wait two more hours for lunch.

Class 1

Class 5

some girls pose for the camera in the library

Luckily I brought a worksheet for the kids to complete on what they saw and learned on their field trip. Most of the group writes that their favorite part was the gesturing the students did during their speeches. Once they finished the worksheet, I taught them a multiplication game with a deck of cards and a sentence-making game with alphabet flashcards.

speed multiplication!

Lunch time has already begun for primary, and we see students carrying containers of sandwiches ordered by students to be delivered to each class. Other students form two straight lines at the window to buy snacks like popcorn, cupcakes, juice or chocolate milk.


At 12pm, our lunch is served. We get cold lemonade and some vegetable-heavy beef stew over rice. The beef stew is the heartiest I've ever seen and well worth the 250 price.

beef stew, or fried chicken wings and ketchup

Jennifer and Stephanie chow down

As we eat, we call our bus driver to pick us up. We play cards and wait until he arrives at 1250.

After a brief stop at the grocery store, where Marky convinces me to buy some Cadbury chocolate eggs. Once back in the car, I split it up. Most of the kids have never had a chocolate egg before and were shocked that it was hollow, as they thought it was a solid chunk of chocolate.

I see Jennifer is not sitting near a window and ask if she wants to move. She stares at me and sheepishly smiles. Nancy picks up on her discomfort and asks again. I ask again, and finally Jennifer gets up and switches seats, because she really needed to sit by the window for her carsickness. 

It's now 1:15pm, and we hit the road to the wharf. We arrive back on the island around 2:30.


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