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Melanesia Learning Resources for Villages Project

Visiting the islands of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu is an eye-opening experience for those who visit.  The island-hopping and village visits of an expedition cruise give a unique insight into what 'island life' means for the people that call Melanesia home. 

After visiting the region as Cruise Director aboard an expedition ship, Helen Ahern noticed the limited resourcing for schools, with some villages doing without simple items such as paper, pens, and books.  With over twenty years’ experience in education, Helen could see a perfect opportunity to 'make a difference to lives beyond our own".  This phrase has since become the driving vision for the Learning Resources for Villages project which is now in its second year.  The Project sources learning resources from New Zealand schools and ships these to isolated villages in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, with the help of expedition cruise vessels, such as the Caledonian Sky.

In talking with the local head teachers and teachers, their common wish is for paper, writing tools, and reading books.  The inside of classrooms vary depending on the isolation, staff and community support – from sparse with no tables or chairs, to rooms with some visual posters on walls.  Sometimes there are no bookshelves, texts, and very limited supplies of paper and pens if there are any at all.   We have seen communities band together to build solid weatherproof structures, such as libraries, utilising funding streams from countries like New Zealand and Australia.  Now the schools are hoping to find books for the shelves.  Sometimes the building structure is the easy part with a long wait for resources due to funding, general logistics and/or infrequent shipping!  

Children are trilingual with their local oral village language, Pidgin and English.  The latter being the teaching medium in schools as it is seen to open opportunities and provide access to further knowledge and learning.  Village members are acutely aware that the future of their village ultimately relies upon their young people and although this can be a challenge with such limited resourcing they remain motivated to support their young generation the best way they know how.  

Some island villages are infrequently visited by any 'outsiders'.  One village we delivered learning resources to had no recollection of visitors in the living memory of their elders.  Life is basic and survival is through subsistence living.  Not all villages have a primary school and even if they do, attendance is a major issue with children often required to support homelife rather than being in class.  Some schools are at such a distance that it requires children to make the long journey of well over an hour each way independently by dug-out canoe or by foot.   

The project co-ordinates donations from New Zealand schools, individual teachers and authors of instructional reading texts, journals and library books which are then loaded aboard expedition ships bound for the Pacific Islands and distributed by the ship’s crew to the village schools they visit.  This is a team effort from across the country and donations are given in the spirit of generosity knowing that children are the future of all strong communities.

Helen continues to visit the islands annually in her role aboard expedition ships. As well as delivering resources, she has found a niche in growing relationships with those working in the village schools.  This has added to both the Project vision as well as providing authentic, meaningful experiences for the visitors to the islands; a symbiotic partnership in action.

With the support of Noble Caledonia, the Learning Resources for Villages project are able to collect, ship and distribute learning resources to these villages and make a difference to lives beyond our own.

 

Website: supportvillages.wixsite.com/booksvillages

Contact: kiwihels@gmail.com

Facebook: facebook.com/supportvillages