Our Volunteers: Sue Ryan volunteering in Kiribati

Kernah with her Science StudentsSacred Heart High School, Kiribati

The Republic of Kiribati is an island nation located in the central Pacific Ocean. Whilst one of the world’s smallest countries in land mass, its atoll islands stretch across a vast section of 3.5 million square km of the Pacific. With a top elevation of 6 m, Kiribati’s atolls are being continually eroded by rising sea levels due to climate change. With much of the population migrating to Tarawa (Kiribati’s largest and most populous atoll) for a variety of reasons, including better educational and job opportunities, and loss of land mass on smaller atolls, Tarawa also faces serious concerns of overcrowding, including water and sanitation issues.

The people of Kiribati view education as an avenue for their youth to seek a better future, and to face these pressing concerns. With an insufficient number of experienced teachers in the country, the Catholic Education Office of Kiribati has made requests to Palms Australia to provide experienced teachers to help in mentoring and assisting local teachers in their schools.

Sue Ryan

Palms Australia recruited Sue Ryan, from New Zealand, to fulfil the Catholic Education Office of Kiribati’s request for a science teacher at Sacred Heart College.

With over 40 years of experience as a science teacher and lecturer, and with experience as a Deputy Principal, Sue is well equipped for the task. Her previous experience as a teacher trainer to assist a national education reform process in Papua New Guinea will also greatly assist her in her work in Kiribati. It has been said that Sue’s “life has been one of dedication to education and to the holistic wellbeing of her students” which will surely benefit the students of Sacred Heart College.

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A different way of being

August 14, 2013

Helena and Sue
Sue Ryan, a science teacher, lecturer and deputy principal from New Zealand is finding that volunteering in Kiribati is not as slow-paced as one might expect.

“The months have passed in a flash. I was thrown in the deep end, on a fast learning curve and have been running to catch up ever since. So between getting to know all the staff and four new classes of students, with names which are impossible to pronounce, the daily routines of school (an eight period day from 8.00am – 3.00pm) and the learning styles of the students, it has been a very busy two months.”

Keeping up with a busy work schedule, is not the only challenge she has faced, though a few lessons on the day-to-day differences from fellow Palms volunteer Helena Charlesworth are going a long way.

“Helena very generously shepherded me around the public transport system, the towns and shops for the first month. She has accumulated a large amount of practical and helpful information, which will never be found in any tourist or guidebook.”

In addition to tips on using public transport and where to get a good deal, Sue now knows the most important trick to shopping in the isolated nation.

“You buy when the ship comes in and when the stock is on the shelf. If you don’t do it then, you can be sure it won’t be there on your next visit.”

As she adjusts to her new daily routine, Sue also senses the excitement that accompanies any cultural event in Kiribati.

“I am told that Independence Week is taken very seriously here, so much so, that there is no school for that week and there are many public events scheduled to take place in the capital Bairiki. We shall all go up, to see the grand march past of the schools and various other organizations and no doubt to hear the speeches and see the president. I am hoping I will get to see the dances that I hear so much about.”

Each learning experiences is an important part of the Palms Solidarity Volunteer process of adjusting to one’s new context, getting to know local people and understanding what is important in their lives.

Further proving that one can never fully anticipate every challenge, Sue recently suffered a broken arm and was repatriated to New Zealand under Palms’ insurance coverage. She has now returned to Kiribati and continues her work at Sacred Heart College.

New faces

February 18, 2013

Brief profiles of 10 of our volunteers taking up placements in Zambia, PNG, East Timor and Kiribati.

Click here to read the full article

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Population: 105,088

Area: 811 sq. km.

Median Age: 20.6

Literacy: 94 %

Languages: I-Kiribati, English

The Republic of Kiribati is an island nation located in the central Pacific Ocean. The country’s 33 atolls are scattered over 3,500,000 square kilometres. The isolation of Kiribati has led to a unique culture, rich in singing and dancing. Family and community are central to this traditional fishing society, but life does not always match […]

More on Kiribati

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