On July 24th, 25th and 26th, the SolarSPELL team launched three separate trainings at remote schools across Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu. In addition to training the teachers at all of the schools on how to use the SolarSPELL offline digital library, each school also hosted a Peace Corps Volunteer who teaches about healthy living at the school. The team also welcomed a fourth Peace Corps Volunteer and her teacher counterpart, who flew from Tavenui island, to join the team for two trainings. Each school visit held numerous momentous occasions.

The first school that the team visited and held a training at was in the Wailotua District School. The team was able to train all of the teachers at this school, including the headteacher and the Peace Corps Volunteer. This training was held in the school library, which was one of the nicest libraries the team had ever seen: a truly wonderful place that had not only books but even quotes that explained how important a library is. The quote that stood out the most to our team was “A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life…” Given the obvious care, time, and thoughtfulness put into this school’s library, the SolarSPELL team hopes and believes that having access to a digital library will serve as a useful complement to the traditional library this school has.

On this same day, the team had the opportunity to demo the SolarSPELL library to a group of (year 8) students who enjoyed watching an educational climate change video. We were humbled by the excitement for the Digital Library, and in particular for the climate change resources. Fiji faced the most intense cyclone on record in 2016, and Fijians are still living with the aftermath of that event. Having access to climate change resources is key to understanding what happened and how to best prepare for the future.

The second school at which the team held a training was the Nadelei Catholic School. Before the training started, the SolarSPELL team arrived to witness a school assembly, where among other presentations, the students lined up and announced to the whole school what they wanted to be when they grew up. It was amazing to hear the students have an idea of what they want to be, such as teachers, soldiers or princesses.

After this, our team trained 8 teachers, 3 student-teachers and a Peace Corps Volunteer. Nadelei’s school population has been growing for a number of years, and what once was a library needed to be repurposed, and is now in a classroom. Nonetheless, this school had beautiful diagrams and paintings of educational content at the entrance to every classroom and on the outside walls—a really bright and colorful way to help students learn. For example, there was the food pyramid, the solar system, the world map, hygiene tips, animals and many others, all painted on the side of the school building. The headmaster and teachers were all the more excited to have access to the SolarSPELL digital library, particularly given that they had to give up their traditional library’s room a few years back.

At this school, the team was able to demo the SolarSPELL library to the year 8 students (when we finished the training and returned their school room to them)! These students had clearly already learned about renewable energies, and their questions revealed their excitement at the prospect of having access to a digital library in their school. The head teacher shared with us that he plans to invite secondary students who live in the surrounding village to come to the school and access resources using the SolarSPELL library to support their learning. This approach is a great way to impact the local community, as their village is far from the closest sizeable city.

Our final school visit was to the Vaturu District School. This was an eventful training, starting with the opportunity to have two Peace Corps Volunteers present. One volunteer, and her local teacher counterpart, had traveled from an island called Taveuni to join our training. The other volunteer, who teaches at Vaturu school, is an ASU Alum and proud Sun Devil!

The SolarSPELL team was welcomed to this school with a beautiful ceremony including students singing and assigning flower necklaces to each member of the SolarSPELL team and the Peace Corps Volunteers.  Next, the team trained 11 teachers. Two of these teachers were supposed to work specifically with the school library, but this school didn’t have a room for a library due to growth of the student population. In this training, we received a lot of feedback on what can be added to the Fiji library to further help students in student clubs, in classes, and when learning other languages.

After the training, the team got to be a part of a second celebratory event that involved the students singing and dancing, and the SolarSPELL library officially being handed over to the headmaster.

The Peace Corps Volunteer and teacher counterpart who traveled from Taveuni Island returned to their home school with a SolarSPELL Library Lab consisting of two batteries, six tablets, a solar panel and a SolarSPELL Digital Library. The training for how to use the Library Lab was held separatly from the school trainings, as it includes technology that requires additional training. Unlike the other pilot schools on the main island, the school in Taveuni has no electricity and access to a library requires hours of travel. Therefore, a SolarSPELL Library Lab was necessary to meet this school’s resource constraints.

The SolarSPELL Library Lab will arrive as a surprise to the school, since the Peace Corps Volunteer and Teacher Counterpart only told their school that they were receiving training and the SolarSPELL library. The SolarSPELL team is excited to learn in the future how this Library Lab helped the school and community address some of the challenges associated with accessing resources on a remote island.

This pilot phase is intended to provide time for teachers, students, and the Peace Corps volunteers to generate feedback from using the SolarSPELL libraries in their schools, and to have a dialog with the SolarSPELL team so that the content of the libraries can be improved in the coming months. The SolarSPELL team then plans to return to Fiji in January 2019 to assess how these libraries have impacted schools and communities, and to train the new cohort of Peace Corps volunteers and their teacher-counterparts. We are eager to continue our journey with Fiji and to keep reaching additional Fijian communities!