Volunteer stories : Jessica J., General Care Projects in Samoa
My decision to volunteer stemmed from feeling a little bit lost in my career. I had graduated from university with a degree that I wasn’t sure I wanted to utilise and was looking to potentially undertake further study. Volunteering seemed like the perfect way to provide me with some distance and clarity to determine my future direction. I had heard fantastic things about Samoa in the past, however I realised that despite the neighbouring country being so close to me, I knew very little about it! Teeming with curiosity, I undertook an extensive Google search and emailed back and forth with a Projects Abroad staff member, falling in love with the country before I had even set foot there! Before I knew it, I had spontaneously booked a two-week Care placement in Samoa!
Arriving in Samoa
In the blink of an eye I had arrived at Faleolo airport in the nation’s capital, Apia. I was warmly greeted by a Projects Abroad team member at the arrivals gate before jumping into the car en-route to my host family, who lived 45 minutes away from the airport, right in the centre of town. Arriving at the crack of dawn provided me with the most beautiful and scenic sunrise drive from the airport to the city. Ocean on my left, villages to my right, I didn’t know where to look next. I was hooked.
My host family welcomed me into their home like you would a long lost relative! They were so excited and happy to see me, offering me coffee, tea, food and water before showing me to my room. I must admit, arriving at my host accommodation I was slightly taken aback. I wasn’t used to living with 15 other family members and not having the luxury of hot water and Western food. But to be honest, I got over this within a day!
I embraced the constant company, having someone to talk to, share experiences with and find common ground. I became grateful for the cold showers as the tropical climate made the need for hot water void! I also found it extremely beneficial living with two other volunteers as it meant we could have a laugh about our day and our experiences abroad.
As with any new environment comes a new diet – the food was definitely a challenge! I had no idea what to expect coming over to Samoa but I had a very open mind and wanted to try anything and everything, because where else would I have the opportunity? Breakfast and lunch generally consisted of locally grown fruit and a lot of bread products whilst dinner boasted the more traditional Samoan dishes including curries, rice and their most abundant vegetable, taro.
Seeing Apia for the first time
I arrived on a Saturday morning, which provided me with the whole weekend to familiarise myself with my surroundings before beginning my placement. What better way to get to know the local area than to go for a run! I headed out the door and in the general direction of the town centre, which had been shown to me on the drive to my host house. The first thing I noticed was the friendly, warm nature of all of the locals! Every person you passed said hello or offered a smile. If there was any inch of wariness in me before, it was now gone. I ran along the sea wall in Apia, overlooking the magnificent expanse of water as I feasted my eyes on the town.
I don’t know what I had expected, being the nation’s capital, but one of the things that stood out to me most was that there were no sky scrapers, and the city was surrounded by water, palm trees and the most luscious green grass I have ever seen!
Most shops are shut on Sundays and being a very religious country, people go to church and spend the day with family. Most families do an Umu on Sundays, which is the traditional way of cooking using fire and wood. I had the opportunity to go to the markets with my host family and purchase fresh fish for the big lunch and observe and participate in the cooking process. I absolutely loved taking part in this ritual, as it was something so different to my life, yet something so common in the routines of my host family and the local community.
In an effort to ward off my food coma, I asked my host family about the mountain behind my house and was told it was a fun climb, so I tackled that task on Sunday afternoon! My first weekend in Samoa and I felt like I had already seen and done so much, just on foot!
My Care placement
Monday quickly crept around and the Projects Abroad staff held an induction day for all of the new volunteers. This was my first opportunity to meet other people volunteering in Samoa. Meeting and talking to other like-minded people who spoke fluent English helped settle me in, and feel even more comfortable. I knew that if I encountered any issues in Samoa, I would have some amazing staff members and friends to seek advice from!
Sure enough, my first day at my placement arrived. I was helping out at All Saints Anglican Pre-School in the mornings, before crossing the road and assisting at the primary school in the afternoons. I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome! From the moment I stepped foot in the pre-school I had children hanging from all four limbs! Their eyes lit up when I entered the room and I couldn’t help but grin. I knew I was going to have the best time here! An average day at the pre-school involved assisting the teachers with activities for the kids, including a lot of singing and dancing!
I found it a little bit tough communicating with some of the really young children due to the language barrier, but we always managed to find a way around it! Conversely, the kids at the primary school had fantastic English speaking abilities! I found that I was really able to flourish there, as communication was not an issue. I spent time with various classes, assisting with reading, writing and mathematics. I loved to hear the kids calling my name as they sought assistance with different problems and I was always able to help! The teachers were extremely appreciative of the extra hand, and they also took the opportunity to embrace my presence and learn some computing skills!
One of the greatest parts of my experience in Samoa was having the ability to explore on my weekends! Afternoons post-placement, the volunteers would often meet in the Projects Abroad office and share stories about their day, in addition to planning weekly social outings and weekends away. In my two-week placement I managed to fit in as much as others did in two months! This was all a matter of organisation and motivation! I wanted to see and experience as much of this incredible country that I could in my two weeks.
My absolute favourite place was To Sua Ocean Trench and rock pools. Most of the time, I got around by foot or for longer distances, hiring a car locally. The best part about this was that it was inexpensive, easy to drive and be able to explore places further away from my host accommodation.
My advice for those thinking of volunteering abroad is to just do it. You will not regret it. You’ll experience a full range of emotions and experiences that will change your life for the better, no matter how long or short your stay. For those volunteering in the future, my greatest advice is to embrace your time abroad. Keep an open mind and a patient disposition as you are bound to encounter at least one obstacle, but I can guarantee that you will be a better person for it.
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