Friday, June 28, 2013

Until we meet again...

It is Friday, the last day of our second week and the first time we start saying goodbye. Susanne and Devin are leaving this evening and everyone is aware that we have reached the tipping point toward ending versus beginning. The day did not disappoint. It was a hot and sticky Kia Orana Day. Everyone at our school was dressed in brightly colored shirts, dresses, and skirts. Sylvia and I were presented with lovely headdresses, Papa Bob with an ei. Again the Friday morning meeting included children singing beautifully with the occasional squirms and flicks, not to mention a growl from Einga. It must be said that it was sweltering in there and I was having a hard time staying focused as much as the children. Luckily I was able to jump up and take a turn dancing with Einga to the delight of the students and the amusement of the other teachers. It wasn’t long before students were running to the computers setting up for another day of Nessy. The rest of the school day was filled with school pictures, playing games at the long break and enjoying a delicious traditional umu. I will be forever grateful to the teachers and staff at this school for welcoming us so graciously and sharing their personal stories and time with us.

After school it was on to the beach to float in the water and then a short walk. As I was waiting to cross the street, I heard someone call “Katie” and crossed to the open arms and huge smile of Clothilde. She said “I knew it was you!” I smiled all the way back to the KiiKii to change into a fancy dress for our farewell dinner and our school pictures.

The Tamarind House was beautiful. Papa Bob spotted a couple of whales in the distance, Rudy sang John Denver while strumming a ukulele, Devin saw her favorite student, and Auntie Hills was in the air. More incredible food and the sky put on a wonderful performance. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The traditional Navajo do not say goodbye to one another. They say, “Until we meet again” believing that our paths will cross again in our life’s journey. Until we meet again, Devin and Suzanne…

Entry submitted by: Katie

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Privileges along with responsibility

A week and a half into our trip, Devon and I confidently enter Class 3 at Te Uki Ou school. This is one of the few private schools on the island. The students pay approximately $40 a week to attend. The school is going through some subtle changes. Simon, the new principal from New Zealand, has just started his second week. Monday assembly has a new structure. He is giving the older students privileges such as chairs to sit on (vs. the floor) at the assembly. Though this may not seem like much, it helps enforce that the older students get privileges along with responsibility such as daily burning of the school rubbish. Simon has also started a journal in the staff break room for teachers to write suggestions and concerns. Most of the staff seems receptive to Simon, yet it appears some may resist change. I think he would be a real asset to any school.

Devon and I work in Tea’s classroom with 22 energetic six- and seven-year-olds. Most days we each lead groups of five children at varying levels of reading, writing, and “maths.” The last couple of days we have been working on transportation, which is their topic study for the month. The kids embrace this diversion from the routine. Devon’s favorite time is recess! The students love to show off their climbing skills on the monkey bars and pose for photos.

Dinner conversation tonight was especially interesting. James explained how the Cook Island land system works and the role of chiefs and the land courts. We also learned that some high school students were suspended for drinking at school and at another school others were caught smoking marijuana. Sounds just like issues we have at home. Universal norms!

My quote sums up our two Kentucky girls’ snack habits - try anything once, twice if you like it! After having an upset stomach yesterday, Hayley and Kendra again felt the need to have another wet burger from Palace Burgers. Tyreka may rear her ugly head again!

Entry submitted by: Suzanne

Message of the Day: “Inspire someone to inspire someone.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Patience is a virtue

As my time on the Cook Islands comes to an end, I have difficulty believing that two weeks have already passed. In such little time I have grown to love many children, and made lifelong friends. Each morning at 6:20, I roll out of bed, still in my sleepy slumber. Normally, I would never wake up this early, but knowing that I get to spend my day with the cutest kids on the Cook Islands, 6:20 doesn’t sound that bad. Every day when my mom and I walk in to Tieaa’s classroom, we are greeted with a warm “Auntie Suzie” and “Deban” or the occasional “Kevin.” For the past four days, my mom and I have been working on four 20-foot-long posters. Needless to say, we put a lot of work into those transport posters and when Tieaa’s idea clashed with ours, we just had to let it be, and remember that we, in fact, are guests. More often than not, I have to remind myself “Patience is a virtue.”

In the past two weeks, I learned many life lessons and came to the realization that teachers do not get the credit that they deserve, especially those who teach young children. I come home from school each day, exhausted and of course hungry. I don’t think I could ever be a teacher, but seeing those 22 cute six-year-old faces makes everything a little easier.

As I previously stated, my quote was “Patience is a virtue.” These six-year-olds know exactly how to test me and push my buttons. However, when I try to sternly talk to them, I crack. How can I possibly be mad at a little kid who only wants attention? It is easier to make the choice to be happy.

As my time at Te Uki Ou comes to a close, I am incredibly sad and don’t want to go home, but I remind myself in the good-ol’ words of Doctor Seuss, “Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.” I will be smiling the whole way from the Cook Islands to New Zealand, and from New Zealand back to my home, Seattle.

Entry submitted by: Devon

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Realities have far exceeded my expectations

I’m in love! In love with a wonderful group of Cook Island children who meet me every morning with bright smiles and warm “Papa Bob” greetings. They don’t know where I’m from, could care less about what I do or what I’ve done. They care because they sense I care.

A group of strangers on the same plane, not knowing it, met for the first time at 6:15 a.m. June 17th at the Rarotonga Airport. Seven different people, seven different backgrounds, seven different ages, and yes, different accents. But a team with one heart and belief, one need - a need to try to help others, especially those who can’t help themselves. Our team was met by a country manager, and we quickly discovered what a capable and caring leader he was.

When I left my little island home, I had no idea what this assignment would be like, but I must say, the realities have far exceeded my expectations. This simply couldn’t have been any better or any easier. I get up in the morning and have a wonderfully prepared breakfast with people who have become instant friends. I get on a bus and go to Takitumu Primary School, spending the day trying, in my small way, to educationally and emotionally nurture children. I get on a bus and go back to the Kii Kii motel, have dinner with the same people, which I’ve really grown to respect. How good does it get!

Entry submitted by: Papa Bob

Monday, June 24, 2013

Smiling faces

Monday at Titikaveka was filled with smiling faces and an eagerness to learn even though the environment is a little too lax to be considered school. I worked with a young girl that the principal considered “mentally retarded’ and had to remember one of my life lessons. Since I was a young child up until when my father passed away we had a handshake in which we would cross pinkies and say “patience.” Patience is something that we as educators and even as adults must possess.

Last night’s dinner of spaghetti and mystery mean sauce was a time of reflection and laughs about the day. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to share this experience with and it will be strange to be without Suzanne and Devin next week. I feel that we have become one big family with Papa Bob as head of the household. After this trip we will all go home to our lives, but wish everyone live long and prosper.
Entry submitted by: Haley

Message of the Day: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Anything but routine on Food Day

Conventional wisdom would suggest that daily activities that remain relatively the same would become routine. Not so. Friday at Takitumu school was anything but routine. We said goodbye to our fellow Global Volunteers and started across the game field to the sound of rhythmic drums and groups of children marching in step time. Then came the big smiles and familiar greetings, “Hello Kay-tee” and “Papa Bob!” Today is “Food Day” and mothers and neighborhood women are already delivering baked goodies, fragrant meats and stews, fruits, and vegetables. No need for the usual peanut butter and jam today.

The assembly was not only informative, but also quite moving. Voices young and old echoed from the classroom with smiles and movement to endorse. As I usually note the unusual or different, it was the “little ones” that were such a joy as they attempted to join in. One pre-k cutie got up and danced, swaying to her own rhythm, in her unique style. There was nothing but pure joy in her face and she certainly made me smile. The day progressed and I was totally amazed at the sixth grade girls and their participation in food preparation. Not many adults would do a better job of deep-frying chips or skillet frying hotdogs. They did this job as if they had done so numerous times. No hovering adults about.

The boys played a hotly contested game of soccer during the afternoon break, and ended the day red-faced, sweaty, and all smiles. What a wonderful day! Happy, confident, independent - these are a few of the words to describe these children. How did they get to this point? I may be wrong, but I think with families and neighbors who love and care for them in the Mari tradition. I think their community and certainly this amazing school contribute to their development, and I would like to think that this Global Volunteer team made a small difference. Are we leaving our mark on Rarotonga? Yes, a resounding yes! Could there be a more perfect ending to our first week? I am not sure this is what I expected, but I do know I am filled to the brim with grateful appreciation for these people, this place, and this experience.

Entry submitted by: Sylvia

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Children alive with spirit and possibility

We seem to have fallen into the rhythm of our time here. The days begin with the sounds of the ocean, the crowing of roosters, breakfast chatter, morning meeting, and then we are off on the local bus. First Bob, Sylvia, and I exit, then Suzanne and Devon, and finally Kendra and Haley. There is always that moment of, “Did you tell the bus driver?” “How do you pronounce the name of our school again?” The bus driver listens patiently and nods knowing full well what is happening. Bob, Sylvia, and I exit the bus and enter the school field. It is not long before we are greeted with smiles, fist bumps, and cries of “Papa Bob!”, “Mama Sylvia!”, and “Katie!” How can you not appreciate a day that begins with the smiles and enthusiasm of these children, to pick up your head as we continue walking to the building and see the colors of the mountain side, the bright blue sky and clouds that come and go.

I am reminded of working with the Navajo communities on the reservation. Dedicated teachers and principals with minimal resources determined to keep going and do the best they can with that they have, children who are alive with spirit and possibility, and families doing what they have to do to make better lives for themselves. The sounds, smells and smiles also remind me of how privileged I feel to be here and to be welcomed into this community.
Entry submitted by: Katie

Message of the Day: “You climb to the top of the mountain not to be seen but to see.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An interesting bunch of people

Personally, I am very shy when I first meet new people. Just like my last Global Volunteer trip to Peru, I was presented with the daunting task of acquainting myself with my fellow volunteers and forming new friendships. I had to leave my reserved facade on the airplane as I exited. Although we are from differing backgrounds - students, mothers, and educators - we all embarked on this journey for the same reason: to leave our mark on the world. In these first three days, I have been blessed to meet five incredibly unique individuals (not including my mom, though she is rather “unique”), with many unusual life stories. First, we have Kendra from Kentucky. At our morning meeting and breakfast, she told me that she had indeed tried peanut butter and bologna sandwich. This made me cringe, but she insisted that it was actually good... who knew? Next was Haley, another Kentuckian and Moorehead State senior. Her Walmart stories are hilarious, maybe it was the way she articulated them; she had our whole table cracking up. She also told us of her buffalo tipping days and that we should never try it because “they are fast and scary.” Next we have Sylvia. Don’t let the skull pattern phone case confuse you - she is one of the sweetest people you will meet. Over dinner she told us that on her many travels around the world where she ate ants, worms, and rattlesnakes. You could say we were all surprised when we heard that the lady who eats all these “creatures” is terrified of her grandson’s caged geckos. Our fourth member is Katie. While having a snack at a local bakery and cafe, she showed me pictures from her recent visit to Italy. Her first photo was Cinque Terra. At that moment my jaw dropped, and my traveler’s envy kicked in. Visiting Cinque Terra is in the top ten of my bucket list which consists of over 250 items. Hopefully one day my travels will bring me there! Finally, we have Papa Bob. A common name, but a very uncommon man. His life is resembles a book. Each chapter takes you to a different part of the world. This chapter takes place in Texas. Over our dinner of mashed potatoes, beef of sorts and salad, Papa Bob told us of how his son saved the life of a child. The admiration in Papa Bob’s voice was amazing as he told us of how his son, with the help of a teacher saved the life of a little girl who was stabbed in the heart with a pencil. Consequently, Bob and Sylvia’s son made an appearance on Oprah, one of my idols. Our final team member is my mom. The students at school refer to her as Auntie Suzie. There is a lot to say about her, but this week I learned that she has mastered simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication. She exemplifies the motto that hard work pays off, noted in her elementary math skills. This is interesting bunch to say the least, and I can’t wait to see where the next two weeks takes us.

Entry submitted by: Devon

Message of the Day: “Living begins outside your comfort zone.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Impressed by dance practice

Six in the morning is generally a time I greet with the same amount of enthusiasm that I would sleeping on a bed of nails or bathing in a vat of lava, but when presented with a delicious breakfast of French toast and wonderful company a mere 50 minutes later, all that disdain vanishes. Everyone had a bright smile this morning, and seemed excited and ready to get started with what we all came here to do; make a positive impact on others.  After my day at the Titikaveka College, and after hearing the other team members recap their days, it is safe to say we are all off to a good start. Haley and I were met with warm smiles and very friendly staff and students at our school, and we got a chance to work with some very sweet kids and young adults who were very open to help and seemed to really want to learn and improve themselves, which was nice.  We were fed a delicious and unexpected meal of potato salad and chicken before we left for the day.

After the rest of our group members returned from their schools, we headed to the library and museum. The local artwork and history that was documented in the plastic cases of the museum was so interesting and I feel like I learned a lot just in the few minutes we were there. I noticed everyone else was as intrigued as I, so I’m sure the experience was a unanimously positive one. 

After the brief visit to the museum, we got to sit in on dance practice. I was so very impressed by the calf muscles on all the dancers, as well as their groovy moves. To say I was in awe would be an understatement. I think we all really enjoyed watching the children dance. I would recommend sitting in on dance practice to anyone, but particularly to anyone who needed their day brightened, because it was possibly one of the cutest things I could ever imagine.

After dance practice, we had the most delicious meal of curry, rice, various fruits, chocolate mousse, salad, and coleslaw. Post-meal conversation was full of laughter, and one of my favorite parts of the day. Getting to hear stories from “Papa Bob” and the other team members was completely awesome. Overall, I’d say our first day was a success and a wonderful start to a great adventure!
Entry submitted by: Kendra

Message of the Day: “Patience is a virtue.”

Monday, June 17, 2013

Arriving in the Cook Islands! Kia Orana!

Kia Orana!

Our team arrived on the same flight from Los Angeles, but originated from Seattle, Boston, and Kentucky. Our team brings a variety of skills and experiences as it includes students, professors, educators, and me, the stay-at-home mom. The Kiikii Motel with its beautiful sunrises is “functional” with spacious rooms, helpful staff, and a great central meeting area. Today we discussed our goals as individuals for our time spent on Rarotonga. As a group, we concluded that our goals were:
1. to learn
2. to make global friends
3. to use our skills and experiences to leave our mark on the local community.

Then, we defined the characteristics of an effective team as the basis for our team contract. James, our team leader, helped us understand the mechanics of the native language, Maori, even though it only has thirteen letters, the different sounds will require some practice. Mid-day we went out on our own to explore the area. At dinner, we discussed our local encounters and adventures on the bus. All went well and team members found locals personable and helpful. We finished our night off with an excellent dinner. The marinated swordfish is a definite must.

Entry submitted by: Suzanne

Message of the Day: “Your basket and my basket will feed the nation.”