Ashley Valinoti - General Teaching Projects in Samoa
I had always wanted to travel to a less developed country and volunteer my skills and knowledge. So I researched many different companies in search for the best one. I came across Projects Abroad and they ticked all the boxes. The process was extremely easy and the staff made the application very simple. I decided that I would travel to Samoa. I’d always been intrigued by the Polynesian culture.
Arriving in Samoa
I arrived in Samoa on February the 9th. It was 10pm when I landed. I was anxious about arriving and wondered if someone would be waiting for me like they said. As I walked out of arrivals I saw two smiling ladies with bright green Project Abroad shirts on holding a sign. I was instantly relieved. As I approached the smiling Project Abroad staff they greeted me with a hug. Before leaving the airport the staff helped me set up a sim card, so I was able to contact my family strait away.
I arrived at the same time as another Volunteer, so after dropping her off at her host family, I was driven to mine. I was welcomed by a happy smiling young woman who was the youngest daughter of the family. She showed me around the house and where I would be staying. After eating my first Samoan meal it was time to get some well needed rest. The next morning I met the mother and father of the family who were extremely welcoming. I met the other Volunteer that I was staying with and I knew strait away we would get along well.
My host family provided me with a big breakfast, which would be the fuel for my busy and exciting day ahead. After being picked up by a Projects Abroad staff member for my induction, I was given a tour around the capital of Samoa, Apia. I was so excited to be starting my placement the next day. This made it hard to sleep.
Volunteering in Samoa
I was picked up by the Projects Abroad director, Katy, who took me to my placement, Ah Mu Academy. A private school made up of students from grade 1 to 8. I was greeted by an excited principle that was as keen as I was to start. I was given a tour of the school where students were ecstatic to see a visitor. I started off working with year 3 and 4 students. I would take out 4 students at a time who were behind in their class. I assessed each student to see where they were at academically.
Each day over the first three weeks, I split the children up into three groups. I would see one group in the morning, one after morning break and another after lunch. I worked closely with a young deaf boy, who tugged at my heart strings. Trying to communicate in a language which was second to him, was hard enough if he could hear me but the fact that he couldn’t hear made the experience tougher yet so much more meaningful. The children were extremely humble and well behaved, which made teaching them so easy. The children were hungry to learn and always tried their hardest.
Teaching in Samoa
At lunch times I would play soccer with the kids, who all fought to have me on their team. I coached the year 5 boys for soccer and supervised when they played other schools in a tournament. My last week at Ah Mu academy I took year 7 and 8 as their teachers were absent. I planned the lessons and taught the classes myself, with no supervision. I felt like a real teacher. The children loved to play different games, like math champs, hang-man and celebrity heads. They had never played these games before. Whilst teaching in Samoa, I grew to understand why these children were so humble and happy with a lack of physical possessions but flourished with incredible values, tradition and respect.
My last day at Ah Mu was a special one. The school held an assembly where they sang me songs and presented me with gifts. It was a sad day not just for me but for the kids. I grew to understand their culture and why they were the way they were. I’m not going to lie, tears were shed! I’ll never forget Ah Mu academy, and have decided to return to Samoa before the school year ends to see the children again.
It wasn’t all work and no play (not that it felt like work at all!) on the weekends the other volunteers and I would travel and sights see. We hired a van and drove along the coast and stayed at beautiful beaches.
We snorkelled, went swimming in cave pools, sun-baked and visited beautiful waterfalls. We slept on the beach, watched traditional fire dancers and basked in this beautiful country. I made lifelong friends and cannot wait to reunite with them all over the world. It was hard to leave such a beautiful unique place. I will always cherish my experience. Upon returning home, I have started to learn sign language and study TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and cannot wait to return to Samoa.