Sia Boima - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Fiji
BULA VINAKA! (I learned this as a result of my time in beautiful Fiji). My name is Sia Boima- pronounced (see-yah, boy-mah). I would like to tell you about one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I have always been fascinated by other cultures, languages and people. For many years, I have always wanted to visit Fiji and amazingly got the opportunity in the spring of 2010. A little background info about me, I am a first generation African with parents who hail from Sierra Leone West Africa; currently we reside in the US.
After doing a search on the internet for any type of service project that had a program in Fiji, I came across Projects Abroad. With a little fundraising and earnest begging I was off to Fiji! I arrived at Nadi International Airport and was overwhelmed by the heat & humidity. But no worries, my excitement served as a cooling agent to combat the heat.
I was met at the airport by Ripah and taken to meet my host family, The Achari’s; Varea & Sachu and their dog Lola. All of their children are grown and have left the nest. So it made for a very cozy stay. They treated me like royalty, the food was great! And as a vegetarian I still had plenty of options.
My placement was at the Nadi Christian Academy. I arrived during the end of a 2 week break from school. So my first day was on a Tuesday. I was taken to school and introduced to each class. The funny part was that many of them just stared in awe as I spoke. I believe this is because they were not used to volunteers of my particular hue. I was then placed in Class 1.
During the time of my arrival there were 4 teachers for the entire school and the class 1 teacher was unable to attend due to familial issues. So from the first day I was thrown into the fire. The good thing is that I have had previous experience serving as a teacher for ages 3-18. It took me a little time to learn the names of my students and assess where they were. I found that many of my students were at varying levels of English comprehension.
One of my brightest pupils was a 6yr old by the name of Samuela. Samuela proved quite useful in translating the messages that I could not convey in Fijian. I had made it a point to try and learn some Fijian phrases; however full conversations proved to be very challenging. We began with a review seeing as how they were just coming off of a vacation. We started with the alphabet and numbers. I had found a few curriculum books around the classroom and so I used them as a point of reference for what my lessons would consist of.
The one thing I will advise any volunteer on is the importance of patience. During my first week, I often took it personal that the children and I were unable to communicate. But one morning after they greeted me, they said, “Madame we learn you Fijian, you learn us English.” I smiled and with that very statement our bond was solidified. For the next month we embarked on various lessons and adventures in and outside of the classroom. Often times I would point to objects pronouncing the proper English translation having them repeat after me.
Many times if they wanted to use the bathroom they would raise their hand and say “toilet”. I taught them how to use it in a sentence and would only allow them to go if they could say it. It proved beneficial because the ones who forgot how to say it would ask for assistance from other classmates. We had spelling bees and math relays. We also worked on hygiene as this is one of the subjects in the Fijian curriculum. For this lesson we would go to the tap beside the classroom as well as the restroom. We also devoted time to scripture and science. One science lesson consisted of us leaving the classroom and going outside to further learn about air, trees, and bugs.
As a youth minister I taught many songs pertaining to scripture. This proved useful as every morning after the greeting we would begin our day with a few songs. Many of the students from the other classes would listen in and try to learn them as well. I also had the students teach me a few songs in Fijian. I wondered if they would grow tired of singing; they did not. I brought stencils in the shape of animals; this provided me with 2 weeks worth of lesson ideas and activities for the kids.
If you know anything about this region, the sport of rugby is basically a religion. And so I decided to focus on another field sport; soccer. It took some time for many of students to realize that unlike rugby, you’re not supposed to pick up the ball with your hands. We worked on dribbling and passing and I separated them into teams to scrimmage. And just as they grew frustrated with kicking the ball, I would allot the last 10 minutes of the time for them to play rugby.
I was fortunate in that I got the chance to celebrate my birthday with my students. We had a party with cake and pizza. Mammah’s Pizza is probably the best pizza you will ever have- oh how I miss it so. We also had ice cream and plenty of juice. I dreaded my last week at the school. A month is definitely too short a time. I was just beginning to see progress in many of my students. On my final day I hugged my kids and exchanged email addresses with all of the teachers.
Fiji has stolen my heart! Projects Abroad did a wonderful job; from the placement to the home stay to the weekend excursions. I loved every minute of it. This was my first volunteer abroad experience and I am so glad I chose this program. If you are seriously considering going abroad but you are a little hesitant or feel that you may need special attention, this is the program for you. Now I tell people that I’m not only African, but I have a little Fijian in me as well. Vinaka!