As a career educator I am often asked how I got into teaching and education. The answer is staked in the first ever interaction I had with a small classroom of kids, in the remote islands of Fiji. Since the age of 12 I had been travelling to Fiji with my parents, but it wasn’t until the age of 16 that I was invited to the local primary school for a week of volunteer teaching. It was such an exhilarating and rewarding experience that I returned to my high school in the United States and started a buddy reading program with first grade classes at our nearest elementary school. After repeated trips to volunteer teach in Fiji and the conclusion of high school, I found myself majoring in Elementary Education at the University of Miami. But, had it not been for that first experience in the Fiji Islands, working with a group of amazing kids, I may have never entered this field.
|This is How You Get to the Village!|
During that first week of volunteer teaching, back in 1998, one of the teachers I met was Jonatani Bulewa. He was, in fact, a rookie teacher. A few years older than I, we had a lot of fun sharing our lives with each other, him a local Fijian, and myself a foreigner from the U.S., talking about education in different settings and enjoying the local cultural activities. 15 years later, just this past week, I had the privilege and opportunity to again return to Fiji for some rest and relaxation. Part of this trip was to honor Jonatani Bulewa, as he was recently appointed the prinicpal of the school near the village where I lived and have a house. He is the youngest principal in Fiji at the moment, and has been tasked with turning around a school that has, as of recently, achieved poorly with regard to academics. It was so great to see Jonatani’s progress from rookie teacher to principal, and to personally introduce him to his new school.
|Jonatani Bulewa, Youngest Principal in Fiji!|
If the United States is my first home, and Haiti is my third, Fiji will always be my second home. I have experienced the births and deaths of loved ones, found a village, VadraVadra, that I call home, and speak the local language fluently. For the past several years my family has provided assistance to VadraVadra and the local school, including providing 17 secondary school scholarships (all high schools are fee based), built new bathrooms at the school, and started a Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) mill in the village, providing a living wage for many of the families. It is a place that I will continue to visit. The reality, however, is that it is not my first priority anymore. My priority is Haiti, H.E.R.O., and the children that we serve. I am thankful that I was able to steal one week from the work we do, and visit my second home, to see old friends, make new memories, and continue my relationship with Fiji. And now it’s back to Haiti, my home away from home,
away from home.
|The VCO Mill in Action!|
Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D