News: Letter from the Field (1 month)

Colourful Independence celebrations in Kiribati
Marlene Rasmussen, from Toowoomba QLD, is volunteering for the Diocese of Tarawa and Nauru in Tarawa, Kiribati.

Well I have been here one month now. When I first saw the airport I nearly died, it was so primitive. I didn’t have to open my suitcases so after that I didn’t think it was too bad. I love the people — they are kind and beautiful. I have not seen any crime since I have been here. I’ve probably seen 4 mobile phones. At the celebrations over the past week where thousands of people assembled not one can of beer was to be seen. Education is advanced here but the people cannot speak English, so are limited to a small Island language. I have not heard a baby cry.

The indigenous I-Kiribati people live in villages which are very poorly equipped. The government runs all primary schools. The private sector runs the high schools and the pre-schools. Each village has a clinic nurse. The great bus service goes every minute of every day – it is cheap and convenient. They blow their horn or blink their lights if they are full. Each bus/van holds approximately 16 people.

The shopping is quite good, far better than I expected. You can get most things. No fresh milk or beef. There is plenty of chicken and pork. I haven’t bought any yet. I have bought tinned mince, tinned mackerel, tinned ham etc. The local diet is mainly rice and fish, coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, pandanas fruit, taro roots various shell fish from the sea.

It is safe here to live. The biggest worry is the flies, mosquitoes, ants and mice/rats. I had to buy mice/rat trap & bait, mosquito coils, ant rid, fly spray. I am coping. The rubbish is the biggest problem. They blame the white people for all the latest packaged goods, There is no room for a large rubbish tip. I would like to see more burnt, a lot is buried. During Independence Week a lot of rubbish mysteriously disappeared. I cleaned up the front of my flat and got 20 large wheel borrow loads and burnt every inch. I paid a price though – I worked too hard and neglected the mosquito bites and some got infected. The local nurse gave me some penicillin tablets (free) and the bites are much better.

My work is OK I doubt if I will get everything done in 2 years. Everything is way behind. The main thing is I can cope. I have to get the staff motivated with pride in their work. Everything is Kiribati time (anytime). I love working on the computer and doing my TAFE exercises. Theresa, Dolores and I have been swimming a few times. The local people make their own fun, they fish, swim, play sport, play bingo, sing and dance, weave and crafts.

I live in a 2 room flat. I have gas hot plates (no oven) a sink and fridge, one cupboard with shelves for my groceries and crockery. The other room I have two beds and a table with three plastic chairs. Outside I have a toilet and shower. I walk only 300 metres to work.

I guess I could say I have been very happy here. Probably I chose the best place to be a volunteer.

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Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.
It is man made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. - Nelson Mandela