After finishing high school, I didn’t want to do any further studying so I decided to spend some time volunteering overseas in Samoa. I chose volunteering rather than a normal holiday because I wanted to help the less fortunate. Samoa was my first choice, mainly because of the proximity to my home in Australia. This trip was the first time I had been overseas without my family and it was the longest that I had spent away from them.
Arriving in Samoa
When I first arrived in Samoa, I was overwhelmed by the scenery. Everywhere I looked I saw green, and I was amazed because it was so different to Adelaide. Driving to the airport in Adelaide all you see is buildings, whereas in Samoa you see green trees and bushes no matter where you look and the houses are so bright and colourful.
I arrived at the house of my host family in the late afternoon and I was a bit overwhelmed, it was so surreal. Once I had settled into my room and had met the family, it all started to feel real and I couldn’t believe that this beautiful place would be my home for the next three weeks. I ended up calling my dad because I was so overcome with emotion. I was on the phone with him for a good half hour just crying because I was so far out of my comfort zone. Thankfully I lived with a wonderful family who made me feel like part of the family, I was welcomed almost instantly. The Friday night that I arrived, the family were hosting a farewell party for one of the volunteers, so I was able to meet a few volunteers and almost the whole family. I’m so grateful that I arrived the night, I didn’t really have a chance to be sad about leaving my family as I was thrown right into dancing and having fun with everyone.
After that it didn’t take me long to find my feet and feel comfortable with the family and volunteers I was staying with.
The house was a big, green two story house with nine bedrooms, three bathrooms and two sitting rooms. The house was well-kept and it had everything you needed. There were five other volunteers living in the house when I arrived, so it was never quiet. I loved living in the house as there was only one TV between all of us so we often had to find something else to do. Most nights we played cards, listened to music and just sat around chatting with the family. The food was fantastic. We had rice almost every night and surprisingly I never got sick of it. Yvonne, my host mother, cooked our meals and it was phenomenal.
We had coconut, fish, chicken, curry, rice, noodles and it all tasted so good. We would stack our plates up with food and eat every crumb. I expected there to be a lot of fruit but I was surprised to find that the locals don’t really eat it, so the fruit that was in the house was there for the volunteers.
My School Sports placement
For my placement, I worked in a primary school teaching sports to the children. I would start lessons at 9:30am and finish at 11:30am. It was too hot to teach after break and the school didn’t have any covered outdoor areas, there was one hall but it was used by a class most days. After break I would sit in on English classes and help out with the lessons.
The hardest part about working in the school was the language barrier. I don’t speak any Samoan and the younger children I taught were just starting to learn English so it made it difficult to explain to them what they needed to do. But after some demonstrations they began to understand and they seemed to enjoy the games. Watching them run around laughing with big grins on their faces was the most rewarding part of teaching. The students have a sports day once a term but apart from that they don’t play any sports in school. The students seemed to appreciate the lessons more than the children in Australia, as it’s not something they do often. They listened intently when I spoke and were respectful of me as well.
On a Friday while I was there, the school held a literacy and numeracy day so all the students performed little skits in both English and Samoan and they also had maths quizzes. The programme went on for about four hours and at the end a little girl came up to me and gave me a necklace made out of lollies and a kiss on the cheek. That made me feel so special and I realised that the students really appreciated what I was doing with them.
On the weekends, the other volunteers and I made the most out of our time by visiting all of the tourist attractions like the ocean trench and Savi’i. There was so much to do and see that I missed out on a few things. I was looking forward to going to church with my host family and experiencing the different religions and cultures but I sadly didn’t get the chance.
As a new volunteer you should be very open minded. Try not to picture how you think the place you are going to will look, as it will be completely different to how you imagined! Make sure you go out and experience the local culture because you will miss out on so much and find it harder to settle in if you stay locked up in your room. Step out of your comfort zone and try new things, you’ll regret it if you don’t.
Volunteering overseas was the best thing I have ever done. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the chance to experience a country and culture I never would have had the opportunity to see. It’s made me more confident and, I hope, a better person. I met so many wonderful people, some of whom I now refer to as my family, and I will cherish them forever.
I want to say a massive thank you to Projects Abroad. Without them, none of this would have been possible.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.