Erin Hetherington - Teaching Physical Education in Samoa
Volunteering in Samoa was easily the best thing I have ever done. I met the most amazing people and saw such incredible places. I grew, I laughed, I cried, but I loved every single moment of it.
I always wanted to volunteer. I didn’t know when, what or how I just knew it was something that I wanted to do. After finishing school, completing university and then going straight into a job I was pretty exhausted. I knew it was time to do something for me and so I made the decision that I was going to do it. I booked my trip to Samoa for six weeks - which in the end, I extended to nine weeks!
Arriving in Samoa
When I got off the plane it was early morning and everything was still dark. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect as this was the first time traveling solo. I grabbed my bag and made my way out to the front where I saw a big Projects Abroad sign held by Leo. He was this big Samoan man who made me feel so welcomed. We drove around the coast to Vitalle Foe which was my home for the next nine weeks.
My typical day was to wake up to a knock on my door and breakfast ready on the table: fruit, eggs, toast, pancakes and weetbix would be waiting for me. My host sister Yvonne prepared every meal for us and she was an amazing cook. Every morning us volunteers would sit down to eat breakfast and share our plans for the day. After breakfast we would all pile into the car with loud music playing and Yvonne would drop us off at our placements and then take the kids to school.
After getting dropped at my school, I would make my way up the hill and soon be completely surrounded by school kids who were so excited and happy all the time. “Good Morning Erin!” everyone would yell when I walked past them. Each morning before the bell rang the staff would go into the staffroom and sing their morning prayer. It was in Samoan so I didn’t know what they were saying but it sounded beautiful.
I was lucky enough to be able to run the sports classes for years 4-7. These kids didn’t get to play sport unless there was a volunteer, so it is an understatement to say they were very excited. We played anything from Duck-Duck-Goose, running relays and ‘chasey’, to soccer and baseball. As long as the students were able to run around they were happy. It was extremely rewarding to see the smiles on their faces and see them enjoying themselves. The language barrier was hard at times but I was able to learn a few key words that helped especially with demonstrations. In every class I was lucky enough to have a student that spoke fairly good English, so they could translate for me which helped.
Every day I took about five classes. We would usually start around 9:00am and finished between 12.00pm – 2.30pm. Once I finished my placement for the day I would either catch the bus into town to the office to see the other volunteers or head home to see my family.
The kids at my school were great and I loved my time there, but there were also some difficult times. The school didn’t have much, the facilities were poor and the classroom conditions were of the bare minimum. It made it incredibly difficult at times and also quite upsetting to see how these kids get by. At times I was also involved in running classroom activities and found that many of these kids struggled to simply read and write which was also challenging.
Whilst in Samoa I made some great friendships with the other volunteers who I still keep in contact with. Every Wednesday night Projects Abroad staff would organize a social event where all the volunteers would get together and catch up. We had pizza and movie nights, mountain climbing, picnics in the park, snorkeling and ice-creams.
During the week all of the volunteers would decide what we wanted to do for the weekend. It was great to hang out and see the sights of Samoa together. We did a lot of day trips to places, boat rides to islands, dinners and one weekend we traveled across to the other island Savaii and spent the whole weekend driving around seeing all the beautiful places. That was definitely a favorite of mine.
My host family
I don’t even know how to start describing my host family. Amazing, kind hearted, incredibly beautiful people and without a doubt, they are a big reason why I loved my time in Samoa so much. Every day when I got home I was so excited to see everyone. Whether it was the car rides to pick someone up, food shopping, going to church, playing volleyball or watching movies, I just loved being around them and part of their family. Mum, dad, kids and cousins… there were always people around. I come from a small family in Australia but loved being part of a big family. There were 13 of us in the same house at one stage! The Malaki house is full of love and I was so blessed to be a part of it. Your host families will do anything and everything for you and they are the most amazing people. Without a doubt I will return to Samoa just to see my family again!
Projects Abroad was great from the beginning to the end. They were always there to answer my emails before I left and organized everything for me when I was there. Katy, Alex and Anna the Projects Abroad staff in Samoa were amazing. There were so helpful, caring, kind and always checked in to make sure we were all going okay. If I had any problems I knew they were there to help.
If you’re thinking about volunteering somewhere, anywhere, all I can say is this… DO IT! It’s the most incredible experience of your life and you will love every moment of it. Samoa and its people would love to have you . They say us volunteers change people’s lives, but the people we volunteer for or live with also change ours!
“Faafetai” and see you again Samoa!