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  • Writer's picturekalofainu

Phebe Parkinson Study Centre

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

Flashback post, originally posted 23rd February 2013

As I prepare to head back to Kokopo next week, I thought I'd dig up an old tumblr blog I wrote at the time. It's been six years since I visited this incredible part of the world. I am excited and an acute sense of nostalgia starts to fill me. When I left Kuradui and waved good bye to the school kids, the teachers, my hosts and my friends, I hugged them and said I'd be back. At the time, I thought that meant in a year or two at most. But time escaped me, and I got caught up in the hustle of life, working to live, in the 'big (fast) smoke' of Sydney - worlds apart from the village life and pace of Kuradui.

So as part of my re-introduction to East New Britain in the Gazelle Pennisinsula, I thought I'd re-share some of my old blogs before I hit the ground. Here's one about my experience doing some volunteer teaching at the Phebe Parkinson Study Centre - a school set up for under-privileged children in my Great Great Grandmother's name.

It’s Monday, and I’m up early so I can join the older students in their class today.  The bell rings and the small children go to their classrooms, but both the teachers for the two older classes haven’t turned up yet.

I sit outside with Doreen and meet her friend Lyn.  Both girls are 17 turning 18 and are doing year 10.  They ask me to take a photo of them with my iPhone and giggle when I show them the instant image.  They call over a couple of boys and tell them to have a photo taken also.  There are more laughs at the photos and they ask me if it is possible to print the photos out for them. 

Half an hour passes by and still no sign of the teachers.  Lyn and Doreen ask me all kinds of questions.  How old are you?  Are you married?  Do you have brothers and sisters?  Lyn tells me her place is ‘on-top’ and that she’ll take me up there after school.

After about an hour Mr Polona walks up the hill, keeping to that slow PNG rhythm, no rush at all.  I ask him if I can “sit-in” on his class and he says no problem.  I take a seat at the table with the four other students who are doing their year 11 studies.  Mr Polona comes over with an exercise work book and says to me, “go through this with the students and then do the exercise at the back”.  He then picks up his young son who has followed him into the room and they both leave.  Ok… so I guess I’m teaching year 11 English today.  Talk about being thrown in the deep end.

I quickly look over the reading and wonder what the hell I am going to do first. Read – yes, we’ll all read!  The students and I take turns reading each paragraph of a story about the Mekeo people.  We learn they have a system of ascribed leadership and are a patrilineal society.  The Senior Chief holds rank, while the War Leader, Magician and Sorcerer are like the fingers each side of the middle finger on a hand.

I break down the first question in the exercise with the students and go through it with them.  Getting them to talk proves to be quite a task.  I think they know the answers, but they are shy.  Slowly and quietly they start to speak up and we make our way through the lesson.  I ask the students to close their books and I revise the key points of the reading by asking them questions. I take great pleasure in seeing that they have picked up everything we talked about and give myself a little pat on the back for successfully teaching the lesson and making the information stick – despite language barriers, lack of preparation and having never taught before. Monday was a good lesson for me because on Tuesday the same thing happened again with a different teacher.  After asking to sit in on the class I ended up teaching the year 11’s their maths lesson.  Averages – I've got this one.  I do the lesson and then the exercises.  I go over and over the maths quiz and most seem to understand the way it works.  We finish the module early so I decide to give the class some homework.  They all look at each other and I think I might be giving them a bit of a challenge – but I know they’re up to it so I don’t back down.

Teaching - what a great gift.  Not as easy as it may seem, especially trying to keep the student’s attention and interest in what they are learning, particularly with the younger kids. 

The next couple of days I spend with the two Prep classes.  On one day Mrs Tiotam is running late so I am left with her class, the youngest group.  I find this class difficult, because the children are still learning English, so the language barrier here is greater.  We go through ABC’s, counting, colours and shapes.  It is obvious that this class should be split in two as one half is way ahead of the other half, who have zero attention span and either stare into space or play amongst themselves.  I quickly develop a new respect for early childhood teaching as the day goes on.

Luckily I had prepared pass-the-parcel earlier that day.  I filled each parcel wrapping with a treat and a card displaying a letter, number or colour.  I play the music from my laptop and the kids absolutely love this game.  It takes up the perfect amount of time until Mrs Tiotam arrives and (thankfully) takes over.

It is not unusual for the teachers to turn up late.  Or the students.  Sometimes the bell doesn’t get rung, or gets rung 20 minutes late.  I find out that the small kids wear their uniforms on Monday, Wednesday and Friday so that their only uniform can be washed and hung out to dry on Tuesday and Thursday.  By now I pretty much know all the kid's names and they call me Miss Kalo or teacher.  Every morning and afternoon I am greeted and farewelled by a bunch of happy and smiling students and I am so grateful that I am having this experience.

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