Juliet Cooke from Wellington New Zealand said teaching at St. Joseph’s School in Rarotonga was a unique way to learn about the Cook Islands culture from the “inside.” In the classrooms, she helped students improve their reading and literacy skills and supported their teachers. In an interview with Marketing Assistant Millie Pinakoulaki, Juliet describes the highlights of her volunteer experience in the Cook Islands.
What was your primary service assignment?
I was assigned to Sister Louisa’s large 32-student first grade class. I mostly helped a few young boys, individually and in groups, who had learning or behavioral difficulties, so that the sister could teach the rest of the class. I tried to help them improve their reading and literacy skills and to keep them occupied during the class. Acting Principal Shelly Berry expressed often that it was great to have volunteers support the school in these areas as it allowed more individualized attention for their students. Further, it enabled the classroom teachers to concentrate on other teaching tasks.
I also used Kupe Explorer, a game I am developing on Pacific navigation, to teach year-8 students about wind zones and directions from wider Polynesia via Rarotonga to Aotearoa. And, I redesigned the school’s stationary and reformatted some newsletters for the school. The teachers and administrators need as much help as we can give to keep them operating. They do amazing work themselves, but they need this extra support that volunteers like us can provide. They all are very appreciative of the support the volunteers are giving to the school.
Was this service experience what you expected?
I really enjoyed my week with Global Volunteers. Everything was very well-organised. It was lovely to feel part of a team and just go along and do whatever was required, and have food and entertainment organized as well. I spent most mornings keeping a small boy from disrupting the rest of the new entrant class. I was really happy to see how individual attention helped them develop in such short period and how important is to give this attention to children in order to help them unlock their potential.
“For me, volunteering is all about connecting with people.”
One of my favorite moments was when this small boy that I worked with took my hand and walked me to the auditorium while we were going to singing practice. It seemed like I found a friend, and I realized how important my time and attention was for this little first-grade student. I felt sorry to be leaving him behind. For me, volunteering is all about connecting with people. As a Kiwi, I may have grown up in a similar culture, but I wanted to connect in a deeper level with the people in the Cook Islands and I certainly did.
After the days’ classes, I got to bike around the island or go snorkeling. It was great to have the other volunteers who were all very nice and interesting, to do things with. Rarotonga offers a variety of activities to do, and is a lovely island to explore.
What did you learn about Cook Islands culture?
I’m a Kiwi, so Polynesian culture is familiar to me, but there are always differences in new places. In Raratonga everyone is wearing ‘eis’ around the neck, and the women wearing bands of flowers on their head, and the teachers having a shared lunch at 10.30 each day. Religion was very important, but underneath the messages of love and compassion social services and were sometimes lacking.
The kids at St. Joseph’s know what to do. Students might not all know their ABC’s but they sure know how to sing. In a school with insufficient resources, you have to prioritize. Maybe they’ve got it right. I watched a TED talk one day, by a French Buddhist monk called Riccard: He said that in the West we go to great lengths to training our intellects, but make no effort to train our minds. Let’s hope the kids of St Joseph’s take this lesson, and understand the spirit of love behind the rote learning.
How does this service program differ from other types of travel you’ve done?
I learned that I enjoy entertaining, spending time and helping small boys. I really enjoyed it much more than just being a tourist. Global Volunteers enables you to see behind the scenes, to meet locals instead of just other tourists, to see what makes the culture tick, and some of the problems behind the glossy brochures. I would thoroughly recommend this program to anyone who is of a mind to give a little back. The other volunteers were all lovely, and I got some interesting insights into American culture too.
Are you ready to explore another country and connect with people in the Cook Islands? Here is your chance! Learn more about how you can serve in the Cook Islands. Or Chat Online with one of our experts to get started today!
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