Written by Catherine Kimber, SV The Southern Cross
'Today I didn't go to church because I believed I would meet Jesus here in the village,' said John, the head teacher of Tarakua, as he shook my hand. Tarakua, home to 175 people, is the capital village on a remote island called Cicia (pronounced Thithia) in the Exploring Islands in Fiji. My husband, Peter, and I along with two other families were in Tarakua on Sunday 29 May 2016 as part of Sea Mercy's mission to bring aid to the people of Fiji following the devastation of Cyclone Winston. Our Australian flagged catamaran, The "Southern Cross", bobbed on its anchor alongside fellow Sea Mercy volunteer vessels "Perry" from the USA and "Amelie IV" from Canada.
Tarakua Village School provides education for 40 children aged from three to 13 years of age. There are five teachers, including one teacher for the kindergarten. John showed our small group of four adults and two children, around his school.
In the middle of a row of three classrooms all the school desks were pushed to one side. The other side of the 60 metre square room was unsafe and unusable. Planks of timber were loose, some were missing. 'The piers supporting the joists appear to have collapsed,' said Peter. While Peter brainstormed ways of fixing the floor with fellow boaties Mark and Matt, I thought about my own son and daughter and how grateful I am that they were able to attend schools in a country that could afford basic upkeep on school buildings.
John pointed to the desks and chairs. 'The students struggle to do their school work at these broken desks.' 'The desks appear to be circa 1960,' remarked Peter. 'The chairs aren't designed to go with these desks. It must be hard for the children to focus on their work while they are so uncomfortable,' I said.
With pride, John showed us the post-Winston constructed outdoor classroom built with local materials and local labour. Beneath the thatched roof with open sided walls it was cool, with views of blue, blue water partly obscured by two large blackboards. John said, 'Once our students reach the age of 14 they continue their education at the largest village on this island, Mabula. Our island has the highest grades for students across Fiji. Children attending this school are future doctors and Ministers.'
'And lastly, this is the school's amenities,' said John pointing to a concrete block building with wide cracks which reached from ground to ceiling. 'When the concrete floor is wet it is slippery. It is particularly dangerous in the dark, for our high school students who use the school buildings at night for their study.' 'Don't go in. It is too dangerous,' I was told. Too dangerous for me to enter but, nonetheless, the village's budding scholars have to use these facilities on a daily basis.
The following afternoon Mark, Matt and their young families returned to the village school with a bag of nails and screws, epoxy glue, screwdrivers and a Sea Mercy funded hammer. Eight desks were repaired in the shade of a tree while the school's youngsters played cricket on their large well-kept ground. When the desks had been mended and John, the head teacher, had finished coaching cricket practice, John was presented with the hammer, along with a couple of Sea Mercy LuminAID pocket sized solar lights.
Perhaps there was some truth in John's statement about meeting Jesus in the village that Sunday. Jesus was a carpenter.
Needs assessment for the village school of Tarakua:
- Toilet block building to be reconstructed or replaced
- Materials to repair or replace the timber floor in middle classroom. The village are able to provide the labour
- Seating and desks or tables for 40 students
- Shelving for books and storage for student personal property (i.e. exercise books and pens)
- Reliable electricity to the schoolrooms, toilets and teachers' quarters. Solar power would be the most sustainable form of power.