Fiji Travel Post: Field Report from Martin

Despite coming from a country with a long Pacific coastline, I had never thought about what was beyond the sea, and I could barely imagine living on a Pacific Island. I was only aware of one side of the story. The same may be said about my experience with SolarSPELL.

During the past two years, I have participated in the SolarSPELL initiative at Arizona State University as a Doctoral student, mostly collaborating on Build Days and with various student-led projects on ASU’s campuses. This opportunity to travel to Fiji to see the SolarSPELL digital library implemented in the field, made me think a lot about these people’s lives and lifestyles on the other side of the Pacific. I also wanted to see first-hand about the impacts of technology, like SolarSPELL, in the field.

Picture: A glimpse of Taveuni.

The Pacific Ocean surrounds the Fijian coast and shapes their lifestyle. With a long history of seafarers, travelling around the islands is part of life for the Fijian inhabitants. However, the Fijians are so welcoming that is easy to forget their geographical isolation. This trip was an opportunity to see the SolarSPELL in action, to participate in training and to have the opportunity to visit some of the communities that have been using SolarSPELL for a year on the island of Taveuni.

Picture: Dr. Hosman and Courtney exploring the digital library with kids in the village in which Courtney serves as Peace Corps.

SolarSPELL constructs new meaningful connections with the communities, it becomes part of the education of their community members, and creates new relationships with the resources available in the library. In Taveuni, the team was able to see the impact of SolarSPELL. Talking with Sama and Courtney (Peace Corps volunteers) about their communities’ expectations and opportunities to interact with SolarSPELL was a really great opportunity to understand SolarSPELL’s actual impact on the communities in Fiji. For instance, the new physical library in Courtney’s school is supplemented with the materials and multimedia resources of the SolarSPELL digital library.

Picture: A morning meeting with the team. In the picture Dr. Hosman explaining something to Sara, Jude and I.

The work within our SolarSPELL team in the field was very different from being on campus, too. I felt part of an awesome group of highly coordinated and committed people. In this time, in addition to the ASU team members, three ambassadors from other locations also joined us during our training in Suva, Fiji: Olivier from Wallis and Futuna, Shawn from Hawai´i and Janie from the University of Guam. The responsiveness of the entire SolarSPELL team to the personal requests, learning styles and motivation of the training participants was particularly interesting to me. This inner relationship between people and technologies makes a lot more sense when you have the opportunity to share, at least for a few hours, with the people who are actually using SolarSPELL in their communities.

Picture: Workshop participant plugging the SolarSPELL device during the training in Suva.

The mission of the SolarSPELL team is also demonstrated during the on-site-training, empowering our new friends to share their best work during this training. A memorable image that I bring with me, it is how Janie shared, with very entertaining movements, particular lesson plans strategies with teachers and Peace Corps volunteers. SolarSPELL is understood not only as a device for educational purposes, but also, as a community of practice that interconnects new ways of learning which for a variety of reasons are not otherwise possible to form, given infrastructural constraints. In addition to this, the team shared a daily “three smiles and a tear” at each dinner-team meeting, which allows the team to share our reflections and feelings of the experiences.

Picture: A portrait of me, taking by Jude, during lunch in the village in Taveuni Island, Fiji

My work as a Ph.D. student contributing to the understanding of SolarSPELL as a technology has given me a completely new perspective after this two weeks visit of different locations in Fiji. This experience allowed me to participate in the construction of the other half of the project: the in-field portion. Furthermore, it also allowed me to start to complete stories in my mind about the relationship that the SolarSPELL project builds with communities in the Pacific: A symmetrical, generative and careful exchange of ideas and opportunities to make the future more equitable for the next generations.