Riana Schoeman was on a one-year assignment as Computer Training Advisor with the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) on the island of Ambae, Vanuatu. She completed her assignment in June 2017.
Published on 28th August 2017
In her final post from Vanuatu, Riana makes a lovely analogy between volunteering and nurturing a flower garden...
I started my assignment at Torgil Rural Training Centre in July 2016 and one of my objectives was to establish a Computer centre.
The Centre closed for a few months over Christmas and I went back to New Zealand to spend time with my family in Christchurch. During my holiday, I had this vision of how beautiful a flower garden would look in front of the computer lab. I returned to Ambae island with seven packets of seeds and netting to keep the many chickens out of the garden.
I quickly realised that the soil was so hard that I could not plant the seeds and asked if I could get the help of the students to make a flower bed. The principal asked if the flowers would make seeds for the next year and, full of confidence, I answered yes.
The students and some of the tutors worked very hard and carried stones from all over the grounds, they carried soil in, they got sticks from the bush and put my netting and some old mosquito netting up.
The planting of the seeds captured the interest of the staff’s children. They got me a stick and as I was making holes, they planted the seeds. We used the ‘water can’ that my husband made with a hammer, a nail and an empty tin.
But from all the many seeds planted, only two sad looking sweet peas started to grow.
The flower garden made me reflect on my year on Ambae island. I realised that I started my assignment with objectives, ideas, plans, enthusiasm and energy. And often the plans didn’t work out and I had to adjust or make new plans. There were times of frustration. There were disappointments and challenges.
In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to ask the local people what the best plants would have been for the computer garden. It was a reminder that as a volunteer, you should seek out local input before you start and don’t assume that what works in NZ will work in a different culture as well. You shouldn’t get disheartened when plans fail. You should re-evaluate and make new plans. But most importantly, you should enjoy the journey and don’t be surprised to find unexpected success along the way.
I had a great time with all the pikininis planting and watering the garden. As soon as they noticed I was pulling weeds, they all jumped in and helped. On days that I had enough energy in the hot weather, I took out plants from elsewhere and planted them in the flower garden.
During the last week of my assignment, one of the plants produced a beautiful red flower and I also noticed there was a pawpaw tree growing. Maybe one day, someone will be able to walk out of the computer lab and pick a nice pawpaw to enjoy.