Published on 30th November 2016
So much of the work VSA does in the Cook Islands is about providing for greater economic development. As a nation spanning more than a dozen beautiful islands, the Cooks’ main industry is tourism, but increasingly locals are finding other business opportunities.
To take the greatest advantage of those opportunities, they need a whole host of skills and training. That’s where VSA volunteer Te Kowhai Ohia comes in: she’s been working with the Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute (CITTI) to teach the teachers about how to effectively engage with students, and facilitate the best outcomes for the Cooks’ next generation of skilled workers.
The tutors at CITTI are all subject experts, and highly skilled, so Te Kowhai’s job is to help them teach those skills to their students in the best possible way.
“I spend a lot of time helping tutors with the skills of teaching,” she says. “For example, we’ve got tutors enrolled in a National Certificate in Adult Education and Training with SIT (Southern Institute of Technology). It’s distance learning, so I help them through it and give it some context, particularly as some of our staff have English as a second language – so I’m often working to try to contextualise for them.
“I do a lot of lesson observations and provide feedback to the tutors, and I also model how to facilitate, particularly when working with adult students. But there is already a whole lot of good stuff happening that I can assist with. A really fresh example of that is a session I had with a tutor who teaches customer service: her thing is embedding Cook Island values in the customer service experience here in the Cook Islands, and she wanted a way to test how much students had taken on board.
“I suggested getting them to do a group exercise where they created a short advertising song, a jingle to promote the essence of the programme,” says Te Kowhai. “A couple of weeks later I followed up and the tutor told me they’d basically created a chant in the traditional Cook Island style. It really showed how we need the [teaching] content to fit the people [and] to translate it into a relevant and meaningful experience.”
Like many VSA volunteers, Te Kowhai has more than one string to her bow. She’s also project-managing for the Gender Project, which is focused on the economic empowerment of women in the Cooks. “I also have the privilege of supporting the [CITTI] management staff, so I’m currently facilitating the development of a four-year strategic plan for our organisation,” she says. “We’ve got a very new management team so being able to sit alongside them and help them and learn from them has been really cool.”
For Te Kowhai, that kind of shared experience has been incredibly rewarding. “I just want to thank VSA and CITTI – they're such cool organisations and they look after you really well and I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”
CITTI’s Director, Caroline Medway-Smith, says that appreciation is reciprocated. “It became evident very early on that Te Kowhai was going to be a key player in the development of CITTI’s staff,” she says. “Te Kowhai’s ability to interact with people and engage at so many different levels is enviable. The commitment she has shown to new tutors in particular has been outstanding, demonstrating both patience and caring.”
With such a strong bond, continuing the assignment was just about inevitable, and Te Kowhai is staying on another year to do even more good work. Caroline is rapt. “CITTI is a better organisation for having Te Kowhai as part of the team and we're thrilled that she is returning to complete another year with us.”