It was 4am local time when I landed in Samoa, after travelling for more than 72 hours from the UK. When I stepped off the plane in Samoa I instantly felt the tropical warmth and the smell of Samoa hit me, it has a very distinct tropical smell which I quickly became used to. After collecting my luggage I went through to arrivals. My flight was slightly early so I didn’t expect that there would be anyone to meet me, so I went to take a seat and as I did a Projects Aboard member of staff approached me and asked me if I was Emma. I was so relieved that someone was there who was expecting me! I instantly knew I could trust Projects Abroad to look after me in Samoa.
We drove to my host families’ house where I would be living. In the car I was told interesting facts about Samoa as we drove through the villages and I learnt all about the Manu-Samoa game I had just missed the day before. When I arrived at my host’s house they had a room ready and waiting for me.
One of the Projects Abroad staff took me and two other volunteers on our induction day around Apia, we got to visit the information centre, get phones/sims sorted, went for a coconut at the local market, ate some lunch together and visited the office. Around town I noticed how dusty the streets were compared to western countries. The atmosphere around town was quite loud and throughout the villages I noticed lots of dogs around. I was exhausted by the end of the first day, as I still hadn’t slept through my own choice, so I missed dinner and slept for 12 hours. The next day I woke up to the sound of chickens, feeling fresh and rejuvenated, looking forward to my first day of volunteering.
Volunteering at Fiamalamalama School
Fiamalamalama is a school for children with physical and intellectual disabilities. The first day I got to go on a school trip which was great, this was a special day for the children and I got to be a part of this. I spent my first week observing the children and staff within the school and gradually got more involved throughout the week. The use of capital punishment is still in use in most schools throughout Samoa and although not in use as much in Fiamalamalama, it was evident that staff wasn’t using effective punishment and rewards within the school.
I wanted to focus on helping develop the teachers understanding of some of the conditions children at the school had, such as ADHD and Autism, as often teachers were not aware that some of the behaviours were simply symptoms of their condition. I developed a training pack along with one of the other volunteers at the school as we were both training social workers and had similar working backgrounds.
Together we managed to put a positive reinforcement training pack together and deliver this to the teachers. We delivered this as a presentation but we made it an interactive session by getting the teachers involved in role play to teach them how positive reinforcement can work with bad behaviour as well as good. The presentation also included information of ADHD and Autism. I passed details of our presentation to the school’s local social worker who was looking to monitor this in the school after we had left, to make sure this was something the teachers carried on.
My host family
My host family were very accommodating; there was nothing they wouldn’t do for me. They made sure I was happy, settled in and that everything was fine with my room. We went for a BBQ at their son’s house one night which was delicious and I got to drink traditional Ava. They made sure I was always well looked after, checking how my days volunteering were going and made sure I was safe throughout my time in Samoa.
They also helped me plan my weekends and gave advice on the best places to visit around Samoa and Savai’i. Living with a Samoan family really helped me to understand how Samoan’s live and get a real feel for their culture. On my final night they made me a farewell meal with all the other volunteers staying at our house, they said prays for me and wished me well on my way home and for the future which was so lovely of them.
Projects Abroad in Samoa
Having never volunteered abroad before I looked for an organisation that would make sure I was safe and give me a great experience developing my skills; all of which they did. I have the most irrational fear of bugs, which isn’t great when you’re in a tropical country but the Projects Abroad staff went above and beyond in helping me to try and overcome my fear, especially of the Geckos! They really couldn’t have been more helpful. Projects Abroad staff were brilliant, they were always available and always checked in on how I was and how my placement was going.
Each week Projects Abroad staff would take all the volunteers on a social events including making a traditional Samoan Umu together, going to the Fia Fia Show and Climbing Mount Vaea. I would recommend Projects Abroad to anyone who is interested in volunteering overseas.
On evenings and weekends I spent time exploring Samoa and Savai’i with the other volunteers, we hired cars and drove round the islands visiting the Sliding rocks, Blow Holes, Waterfalls, Turtles, To Sua Trench and hanging out at traditional Samoan Fales together by the sea.
I chose Samoa because it was somewhere I had never heard of before. I wanted to volunteer in a country which had a completely different culture to that of the UK. I wanted to put myself completely out of my comfort zone and push my own personal boundaries.
I had the best time of my life in Samoa. The people are so friendly, literally anyone will talk to you and ask you how your day is going or walk you down the street. You will always feel welcome in Samoa and there is plenty for you to do. I only wish I’d stayed longer. The children around Samoa are polite and so grateful it was a pleasure to volunteer in such a great place.