Volunteer Work at Fote Primary School By Mark Walker

On February 10, 2010 by admin
building a strong foundation

building a strong foundation

When approached by my brother, John, with the idea of doing some volunteer work in the Solomon Islands, my first question was, where’s the Solomon Islands? Apart from hearing the name once or twice in my life I didn’t know where it was and knew even less about what goes on there. I soon learnt a bit about the country and Little and Louds’ objectives with Fote Primary School. After having finished my training to be a carpenter, I was looking for something different, so I said yes. And I’m so glad I did.

In late September, after a long journey, me and my brother arrived at Fote Primary School to a most incredible and overwhelming welcome. There was the female church choir, boys with spears in traditional dress, girls hanging wreaths of flowers around our necks, and the unique sound of the pan-pipes. We shook hands with everyone from the surrounding villages and it was great to finally be doing what I’d been thinking about for all those months previous.

We stayed in a picturesque hut, situated on the school grounds. It was elevated on stilts and it’s walls and roof were cladded with the local sago palm leaf. Everyday, three times a day, people would come from different villages (according to Little and Louds rota) to bring us cooked, local food, and plenty of it. They would often sit down and talk with us, sometimes in english and sometimes in their national language, Pijin english. Each morning we’d be woken to the sound of the church choir, practising their hymns, which definitely beats any alarm clock. Neighbours would bring us hot water in large thermos flasks to last us for the day. Then, after breakfast, John would go off to teach the children and I would pick up my tools and get to work on building. I worked alongside three local men, all of whom had kids at the school and so were very willing to help with the building and growth of it.

Over the two months, we built a new storage room- a secure lock-up for the schools materials and equipment. We made two new toilets for the children. We did lots of maintenance jobs to the existing school building, such as painting it, putting secure locks on the doors and fixing wire to the open windows. Finally, during the last 3-4 weeks, we built a new and much needed classroom for the pre-schoolers.

one of many accomplishments

one of many accomplishments

All the work was done by hand, and in the humid, tropical heat my muscles protested, being use to mainly using power tools. The local guys found it hard work but were use to it. Everyone around had strong muscles, use to a life of building, gardening, carrying and cleaning, all done without the aid of electricity. I felt like a little boy compared to these strong men and women. But throughout my time there, I could feel myself adjusting to the climate, food, work as well as to their customs and ways of doing things.

Everyone would pitch in with the work. John helped when he had a free period or after school had finished. Local men and women would come and bash in some nails or carry a few things. And the children would help lift things and fetch things. They would watch me intently as I worked. They have a copy-cat way of learning so when I handed them the tools it’s almost like they just knew what to do with it, even kids of age 4 or 5.

The progression of the building and teaching was seen as a communal effort, not one based on hand-outs. Little and Louds funding provided the necessary materials yet it’s their presence in the community and the education they’re providing which is really inspiring the people of the area to do more for their school and community. And I think, given more time, Fote Primary School will be seen as a shining example of what community spirit can do.

Personally, the way that the people of Fote welcomed us, looked after us and treated us like we were family was truly meaningful to me and my time in the Solomons is one that will always stay with me.

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