Denise Eddowes is one of VSA’s first volunteers to go to Tuvalu in 20 years. She’s working alongside the Ministry of Education, schools and teachers to support them to bring in Positive Behaviour for Learning (PB4L) after corporal punishment was made illegal.
The Taupō local, who is accompanied by her husband Mark, has quickly become involved in the community in Funafati, even joining a clean-up in her first weeks as part of a Government initiative to tackle the country’s dengue outbreak. Mucking in, and taking time to observe the classes in which she’s working, has been a valuable way to kick off her assignment, she says: “Cultural responsiveness is paramount if I am to make connections in order to work together. I love doing this as it means I get to develop my skills in terms of learning a new culture and putting my feet into the shoes they walk in.”
Denise says she’s already seen real strengths in Tuvalu’s teachers, but they work in challenging conditions. “Nauti Primary, the school I am currently working with, has a role of over 800 primary students and it is going through a rebuild which means only half the classrooms are available.” Due to the limited space, junior students attend in the morning and seniors in the afternoon. She notes, “There’s no air-con in the classrooms and by 9.00am it reaches 30-33 Celsius. By the afternoon, children (as Kiwi teachers are aware) struggle due to heat and fatigue so I feel a huge amount of empathy for these teachers.”
Having presented a workshop on the “why” behind PB4L, Denise is planning workshops adapted to meet the resources available in Funafuti. “I have not found one shop that sells stickers and everything is expensive.” Sticker charts, which every Kiwi primary classroom is adorned with, won’t work in Tuvalu, so Denise, Mark and fellow volunteer Hillary Boyes come up with a solution together (which fits with Hillary’s assignment with the Ministry for the Environment): “I will suggest in the workshops that teachers use bottle tops (there is a huge issue with plastic rubbish here so this is a great way to recycle) and to draw a smiley face or star etc to use as tokens in place of stickers to signify 'well done' to the students.”
Another idea is recycling tin cans and creating an 'I can' can where teachers and students write a small note of what they achieved, pop it in their can and then take it home at the end of the week to share their family. “It's about adapting PB4L strategies we use in NZ to fit the culture here in Tuvalu.”