Workshops and Meetings and Trainings, Oh My! Part 5: An Awareness in the Village

In the morning, the headmaster announces that school will be canceled after lunch, as the teachers will be heading to one of the neighboring villages for a community awareness.

In Vanuatu, since word of mouth is the best way to transmit news (people have limited data to read a website, let alone own an email account, and phone signals can be weak). Therefore, hosting big meetings is the best way to get a direct message to the masses.

During morning break, the headmaster asks me if I would attend, to which I agree. I assume it is an awareness on the learning centers that we will be setting up in the communities. I soon find out it's just a general awareness to talk to the community about the school.

The headmaster presents to the crowd.

The village is about a 45 minute walk on the road following the shore, but we decide to take a boat, as it's much more convenient. At 11:45, we head off on the boat. There were 12 of us: seven teachers and four additional staff including the headmaster. The headmaster's daughter Vivi joined as well.

The Class 6 teacher, Alista, threw a fishing line off the boat, and shortly before we arrived at shore, he feels a tug at the line and has the captain stop the boat. He reels in a massive 14" white fish. I'm told it is in the tuna family.

At 12:10pm, as we disembark beside some massive black volcanic rocks on the shore, one teacher mentions the rocks are the remnants of the long extinct volcano of our island.

The headmaster tells the captain to return in an hour. I didn't realize the time here would be so short, but we will see.

Ms. Leilau leads the way to a half-complete community hall with no doors or windows and a pile of timber to the side. Nancy puts the projector on the table, and we sit and wait for lunch. Alista and the headmaster sit away from the women, under a tree outside.

Awaiting our lunch.

Vivi looks out the window hole towards the ocean and gawks at the birds. I look out the window hole facing the village and watch as a naked toddler gets chased down by his mother with a bucket of water asking him to bathe.

Mrs. Nasse comments how we will eat some fresh fish, as the village here is known for its fresh fish. "Our group will eat it all!"

Ms. Leilau appears with plates of food and our meal is revealed: a mountain of rice covered in a mix of canned mackeral, ramen noodles and spaghetti sauce. On the side is a single piece of simboro and a quarter of a pink grapefruit.

Vivi walks around telling everyone to eat well. It's a common greeting at lunch: Yu mas kakae gud.. Mrs. Nasse shakes her head at her daughter as she munches on a pile of spicy pima chili peppers between bites of rice. She tells me she would eat a pile of peppers every morning when she was pregnant with her first born; it was her pregnancy craving.

As we finish eating, Mrs. Nasse and Ms. Tatangis beckon some year 5 students over who are just coming back from school. "Here, take these leftovers, Vivi hasn't touched it. Go home and finish it." The kids oblige, the boys chowing down as they walk with the plates.

The man who provided us food tells us that he would have provided fresh fish had the headmaster given him one day notice of our arrival, but we'd shown up unannounced. He had some fish from yesterday's catch, but just this morning he had sold them.

The headmaster gets up from the tree and walks around outside, presumably to get things started. I ask Mrs Nasse if we have an agenda. She looks confused. I say, a list of talking points, what we want to ensure we discuss? I myself don't really know the purpose of this awareness. She and the surrounding teachers don't know of anything, and direct me to talk to the headmaster.

Before I can ask, we are told the awareness will take place elsewhere, so we head off on a ten-minute uphill hike through the bush.

We arrive in a large field that I recognize as a place I've been for a church event. It is now 1pm, and I ask what we are waiting for. "People." Says Miss Leilau. No one has appeared, but the community bell has rung. Here, we wait.

We walk to the kindy (kindergarten), and the teachers fawn over the cool design of the concrete railing, which was created by pouring concrete into a rod of bamboo.

The kindy classroom.

Five minutes later, the headmaster calls out from down the hill, telling us we are going back to the field, where there is an unfinished community hall with a good wall for us to use the projector on. We all put our shoes back on, which are sitting just outside the doorway out of respect, and go back to the field.

At 1:30, the headmaster tells us to rearrange the benches quickly so the audience has somewhere to sit. Meanwhile, a few teachers try to figure out how to get the projector visible, as half the building has no roof and sun is shining in brightly. A man from the village has hooked up an extension cord to a generator behind the building. We move the piece of white cloth that we nailed on the wall into the corner that is slightly less sunny. It is still very difficult to see the projection.

At 1:40, when the headmaster tells a village elder that we're ready to present, the hall quickly fills with about two dozen people, a third of which are children under the age of five.

The crowd gathers for our presentation.

We do a prayer, and Alista gives an outline of the purpose of the awareness. In general it is to explain some updates on school improvement and administrative changes.

The teachers introduce themselves, because even though the school is a 45-minute walk away, many people here haven't met the teachers of their children. During the introductions, the headmaster takes multiple photos of each teacher's self-introduction on his phone.

The headmaster then starts his presentation. One slide lists core goals of the school and community, such as open communication, empowerment, respect and teamwork. For each value, he explains the definition, for about two minutes each.

He explains the staff structure with a slide showing the hierarchy of the academic council, student council and other staff.

He continues on, talking about workshops and plans and achievements. At 2:20pm, I notice the crowd is having conversations among themselves, and the children in the crowd are walking around and playing.

The headmaster reveals that this particular village doesn't have a learning center or committee yet, and expresses the need. The two other villages neighboring the school have the committees and centers established. These will be places inside the communities where the students can study and ask for homework help from elders and youth in the village. The headmaster stresses that the local police need to go around at the community center times to ensure the students go use them, almost like a curfew.

The headmaster then explains how teachers need to know everything about all the families of students and house situation of the students. We want to know about the siblings or if the house is near a nakamal. These things may contribute to the student's attitude or studies.

I stand up and speak briefly, mostly telling the parents and adults to get involved in their students' studies. Culture here is different than American culture, in that most learning exclusively takes place at school, and it's rare that a parent will help a student study or do their homework at home. Its rare that parents will even ask what the child did in school that day. Once a student comes home, they drop their bookbag and go play or do housework. I stress that an involved family allows for student success.

After I sit down, the headmaster opens the floor to questions. A man stands up and declares the village has already made a committee to look after the learning center. He then promptly sits down.

The chief stands to say how the awareness here has helped clarify the purpose of the learning center, and he agrees with the idea that learning needs to happen in and out of the classroom.

Another man stands up to share his pride in our school, how the presentation and idea of having this awareness shows the school's commitment in the education of our students. Everyone applauds.

The headmaster thanks those who shared comments or questions. He then explains that the reason behind Mufti Day was to encourage students to think about their future. He hopes someday when he is old and sick that one of his former students is his doctor at the hospital in town.

The headmaster then proudly announces that I will be extending for an additional year, and the crowd applauds.

Madame Caro stands to ask if the committee here can have a francophone to help with French activities in the community learning centers. A member of the committee stands to say it is possible and it will be done.

Another member of the audience asks if we will do another training for how to run the centers. The headmaster says we definitely will.

At 3:15, the meeting concludes with the chief's thank you speech and a prayer. When its over, we walk around shaking everyone's hands, as Ms. Leilau reminds everyone of the fundraising next Friday, all day. There will be raffles for things like knives and spades!


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