Thursday, March 1, 2012
Back To School
The school in my village opened this week. It was quite a chaotic opening. At the last minute, Brian, one of the teachers, informed me that he had become the new headmaster, since the previous one had transferred to another school. In Vanuatu, headmasters and teachers transfer schools every three-five years, and these transfers are frequently haphazard. While my Peace Corps assignment is to teach English, I was asked to teach mathematics at one point. I was comfortable doing so, but wondered what other tasks I might be requested to perform that are not part of my job description. I was impressed by many of the students' English ability and happy to see a poem by Langston Hughes, one of my favorite poets, hanging on the wall. I was also disappointed in the library. There were no books inside it, and there were cinderblocks everywhere. It looked like a bomb had exploded inside the library. I realized there was quite a bit of work to be done in the school. During a social studies lesson, I was also appalled to learn that the three guiding principles in the constitution of Vanuatu are traditional Melanesian values, faith in God, and Christian principles. Coming from a country which, at least in theory, separates church and state, I found this quite shocking. Since coming to Vanuatu, I have encountered Christians of all different denominations, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, Assembly of God, Presbyterianism, Roman Catholicism, and Seventh-Day Adventism. I have also encountered missionaries of all different denominations. Frequently, while walking around Lakatoro running errands, I see Mormon missionaries trying to strike up conversations with locals in order to convert them. Missionary work was spread to Vanuatu through missionary activities, and some of these missionaries were killed and cannibalized. Still, Christianity is a force that infuses all of daily life (including school, where prayer is still practiced and almost never challenged)—and also, in my opinion, limits perspectives. I have heard of Peace Corps Volunteers here in Vanuatu forced to change sites because they were atheists, agnostics, or practiced religions outside the sphere of Christianity and Judaism. I have also noticed that the students are quite diffident and getting them to speak before the class is like pulling teeth. Simultaneously, getting them to be quiet while I am speaking to them is equally difficult. This is a common problem in Vanuatu schools—one that I hope to rectify in my village by engaging the students in material that excites them.