As a rising senior at Dartmouth College, I wanted a summer experience that would allow me to help others and ground my college studies in real life experience. I am a geography major with a focus in international development, and therefore volunteering in a developing country offered ground level insight into my studies. I specifically requested to work at Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG), as I have a special interest in women and development. The Samoa Victim Support Group is a shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The Projects Abroad staff happily set me up at the placement of my choice.
Arriving in Samoa
Upon arrival in Samoa, I was taken to my amazing and welcoming host family. A Projects Abroad staff member took me for my induction and showed me all around Apia. My host house was within walking distance of town, the Projects Abroad office, the main bus station, and the sea walk, so it was very convenient. The family I lived with was a big family, with many cousins staying in the house for schooling. I loved the big family meals and the atmosphere surrounding the large busy family at my house. I enjoyed playing rugby with my host sisters and brothers, as well as playing with the three week old puppies they had.
As a vegetarian, I was nervous about being able to eat enough, but my host mother was amazing and experimented with her favourite dishes to make vegetarian versions! I loved being able to try new food. My host mother, Pepe, also worked for SVSG, which provided me with a level of comfort and familiarity with the organisation.
Volunteering in Samoa
Upon arrival at my placement, I was informed that I would be teaching the preschool, which consisted of around 20 children between the ages of 4 and 11. Having never taught before, I was nervous. However, the kids were very welcoming and the SVSG teaching staff was supportive. In addition, both the other volunteers and the Projects Abroad staff were invaluable in their advice, support, and provision of resources and ideas.
I enjoyed learning from the seasoned volunteers about their experience with teaching in general and teaching within the cultural context of Samoa. I was initially shocked by how under resourced the school was. However, I soon learned how far pen and paper can go. The Projects Abroad staff provided me with resources, which made a huge difference when implemented in class. SVSG held a volunteer meeting every Monday for all volunteers. These meetings provided an opportunity to discuss challenges and concerns with the administrative side of the organization, and therefore served as another source of support.
I enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers from all around the world. We spent time together in the office, in workshops, community days, and weekly socials organised by the Projects Abroad staff. The workshops I attended were a cultural workshop which helped me understand the Samoan culture, and a goals workshop which allowed me to share my experience with new volunteers.
The community day consisted of making resources for Siani School, which was a great experience as I worked with the other volunteers and was exposed to a school environment that was very different from that of my placement. The socials were a fun way to experience Samoan culture with the other volunteers. The socials included zumba, going out to dinner together, and preparing an umu, which is a traditional Samoan method of cooking.
We also all attended a rugby game together, which was a historical match between Manu Samoa and the New Zealand All Blacks. I enjoyed doing other activities with the volunteers, my favourite of which included exploring Savai’i, climbing Mt. Vaea, sliding down the Papaseea sliding rocks, and swimming at Pololo Deep Marine Reserve.
I would encourage anyone looking to learn about another culture to volunteer in Samoa. I would encourage anyone looking to positively impact the lives of others to volunteer at SVSG. The people and culture of Samoa are very vibrant and inviting. Even the commute to my placement was a highlight of my time in Samoa; the open air busses played music and the seat sharing highlighted the friendly nature of the Samoan people.
I left Samoa with an enhanced understanding of my collegiate studies, a new perspective on aid, and a family and community of people I look forward to seeing again. I would strongly recommend Projects Abroad to anyone looking to volunteer abroad.