Shute: BYUH interns build a school and bless the lives of children

Written by: 
Dr. Jonathan W. Shute

At the far northwest end of the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji lies Namuka I Cake, a small primary school servicing 82 students where for eight years the BYU-Hawaii School of Education and Career Services Center have been sending university students for internship programs.

This internship program, started by Dr. John Bailey, a professor in the School of Education, allows these students to live full time at the small school and gain invaluable teaching experience.

The benefits for both Namuka I Cake and interns are difficult to put into words. How do you describe the experience of living among beautiful, young and very poor island children who are excited to be in school? How do you describe the learning that takes place when you see the sacrifice some children make because they believe in the power of education?

Six students at Namuka I Cake travel 11 kilometers one way every day to attend school. How do you describe the hope and trust seen in these children’s eyes as they rely on you to be their teacher?

In addition to the intangible gains our School of Education students make, they are also able to practice the effective teaching skills they have learned thus far in their teacher education program.

From the Namuka I Cake point of view, according to the headmistress (principal), Mrs. Meri Sauvou, the biggest gain for the students is the exposure to English. Interns bring with them reading programs and picture books designed specifically for beginning and intermediate English language learners. They also bring with them fluent English proficiency.

According to Sauvou, before this small school was built, parents in the three villages sent their young children to boarding schools in different areas of the island. The younger children were unable to be sent because of age and therefore unable to gain an education.

Sauvou explained this tradition lasted for several decades, but as the years passed the parents encountered two major problems: “The financial demands of sending children to this boarding school by boat and providing weekly rations and their expenses were unbearable,” she said.

“Secondly, the parents realized their children missed the indispensable emotional support of the family as strict discipline wore on them through the boarding school lifestyle.”

To solve these problems, the people of the villages of Nabubu, Lakeba, Nasovivi, and Silivakatini collectively worked on the establishment of their own school. Pooling their meager resources and using their own labor, they constructed a classroom block and four teachers’ quarters in 2004 at Namuka I Cake School.

Local timber was used and the men and youth of the villages worked together. The people had to purchase some materials, namely roofing, nails, louver blades, etc. and provide food for the laborers.

Sauvou attributed the success her students are experiencing to the internship program. She explained, “Our students’ English results are excellent. English is a core subject and students should get a 50 in order to pass the external exams.

“I’m so proud to mention that we had 100 percent of the students who sat the exam passed.” In addition, many of their students are attending high school in Labasa and they are doing well. Some of their students have grown and are now attending University of the South Pacific.

Not only do the students and head mistress appreciate the internship, but so does their community. Ms. Sauvou stated, “The people in this community strongly support the interns from BYUH because they’ve seen the improvement with their children’s academic performance.”

This School of Education internship opportunity has been the catalyst for a separate non-profit humanitarian organization, the Millstone Initiative, to step in and help.

Numerous basic fundamental problems exist for this small school and for the interns. To name a few: lack of electricity and running water, water pumps and rain catchments, decrepit buildings, old, unusable school materials, cracked chalkboards, broken desks and chairs, and many basic schooling materials.

The Millstone Initiative has had success and is appreciative of many people who have donated resources. It is currently raising money to upgrade the facilities at Namuka I Cake. They anticipate being ready to start construction in May of 2018.

In addition to many private donors, Seacology, an environmental group that has completed hundreds of humanitarian projects like this, is the main contributor. Under its direction, the school will be rebuilt. In addition, LDS Charities in the Pacific Area have also pledged to provide desks, chairs, and other materials for the students.

Such is the success at Namuka I Cake School. However, the BYUH School of Education has expanded its internship opportunities. In the Summer of 2017, seven BYUH students working with the Ministry of Education had the opportunity to travel to the Republic of Kiribati and help at Rurubao Primary School. In the future, we hope this program will expand to such areas as Vanuatu and Indonesia.

A great story that is representative of the great work our interns are doing is told by Alexis Spencer, a TESOL education major who interned at Namuka I Cake. Alexis wrote, “It was a usual math morning review. … As I moved around the classroom helping and asking questions, I asked Jessi, a Year 4 boy, what something said.

“Epeli then informed me that Jessi didn’t know how to read and his English wasn’t good. From the first day in class Jessi had been a troublemaker, he never stayed on task and he bullied the other students. I asked Jessi if he wanted to start doing extra reading during lunch and he agreed. And, of course, Epeli wanted to join us.

“As I started reading each day with these two boys, I was able to see them improve. One day as I was coming from lunch to the classroom, I was looking around for Jessi. I was nervous that he would become uninterested and stop reading with me. But as I entered the classroom my heart about burst as I saw this little Fijian boy who was constantly getting into trouble, hitting others and glaring classmates down, was now quietly sitting at the table.

“He had his book open and had started without me. It is because of little boys like Jessi and Epeli that I want to be a teacher. I want to help students from all backgrounds have a desire to learn and to be their biggest cheerleader as they are doing so.”

While most of the students who participate in this internship are education majors, students from other majors have also had the opportunity.

For example, Molly McKeon, majoring in intercultural studies and communication, was able to travel to the Republic of Kiribati. Of this experience, Molly wrote, “I learned things during this internship that I would never have learned anywhere else.

“Working with Grade 5 students was incredible. The kids were smart, funny, willing to learn and they know how to relax and have fun. I can say that I helped out in the school, but in reality, I was the one who gained the most. This was one of the best experiences of my life!”’

Our School of Education internship is providing exciting opportunities that our students and the primary school students will remember for their lifetimes.

For more information, students can contact Dr. Shute at jon.shute@byuh.edu.

Date Published: 
Friday, January 19, 2018
Last Edited: 
Friday, January 19, 2018

NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Jan. 2018 print issue.