Chloe, an undergraduate student from ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions, joined the SolarSPELL project this year and traveled with the team to Vanuatu. The following is an anecdote from her experience:

It was our first full day on Malekula Island and we were going to visit three Peace Corps volunteer sites on the Island. The excitement among the team was apparent. The day before, we had the pleasure of meeting many of the Peace Corps Volunteers whose placements are on the Island and their stories and feedback left us hungry for more. The first Peace Corps volunteer we were visiting was Christina, an education volunteer, whose site is a teacher compound located on her school’s grounds. Upon our arrival, Christina greeted the team with a beaming smile. By her side were her pets; a cat and two puppies. Basking in the sun next to them, in front of Chris’s home, were two SolarSPELLs. The scene instantly warmed my heart. We had heard the day before that Chris and her teacher counterparts used the SolarSPELL often, but it was another thing to see them charging there in the field where they make an impact. 

Christina began the tour of her site with showing us around her home which consisted of two structures, her bedroom and living room in one and her kitchen in the other. Her belongings consisted of items she brought from home, inherited from previous Peace Corps volunteer generations, or those she had accumulated from Vanuatu since her arrival. Though beautiful, seeing her home was incredibly humbling and a great reminder of just how comfortable our lives in the U.S. are. Chris, who of course was very aware of this difference, still expressed so much gratitude for the home and the features it had. In her back yard, she had a large garden where she grows the majority of her food.

Next, Christina led us to the school which consisted of two large buildings bordering a large grassy field. We entered the first classroom, one that hosted first and second graders at the same time, and I was immediately taken aback. The floor was cracked concrete covered with a variety of stains. The chalkboards were no longer legible due to the remains of writing over the years. The bulletin boards supported few posters due to over use. Even part of the ceiling was dangling and apparently had been for a few months. A few tables were pushed up against the wall and several wooden stools were scattered across the room. Despite these conditions, Christina explained, with a smile, that about 20 eager-to-learn children would be in this room daily.

I then saw the bookshelves. Tattered and worn papers, worksheets, and workbooks were overflowing on the shelves. It was in this moment I fully realized the importance of SolarSPELL and its efforts. These were the materials the teachers and students had previously used to learn. With no access to internet, the teachers’ lessons are restricted to subjects that these materials support. The students’ curiosity is bound to what information exists within these materials or in the teachers knowledge. It is not that the people themselves do not have the capacity to be amazing students or teachers, or even that they lack the will to, in fact more often than not it’s the opposite. The problem is that they lack the opportunity to reach their full potential due to the constrictive nature of their resources. 

We went on to tour three other similar classrooms and then the library. Christina’s passion throughout the tour was infectious, but when showing us the library, it was even more evident. During her time at her site thus far, she has worked hard to organize the books and foster the library’s environment. She encourages the children to spend time reading in the library, instilling self-initiative learning. Listening to Chris talk about her work, vision, and goals for the library, school and community was mesmerizing. Her determination and passion were so clear. She, without a doubt, is a champion of change and she made it clear SolarSPELL has and will continue to play a huge role in her efforts. 

Many times during our visit Chris talked about how much she and her teacher counterparts use the SolarSPELL to expand their knowledge and understanding, develop lesson plans, discover new ways to teach information, or show educational videos to the students. She shared ideas to improve the library, what she and her teacher counterparts find the most useful, and how she plans to use the SolarSPELL in the future. For example, in the new year, she plans to start a variety of weekly classes for the adults in the community. During these classes, everyone will use the SolarSPELL library to access lesson-supporting articles and videos. It was beyond exciting to hear SolarSPELL’s role in her life and work so far and the role it will continue to play as she serves such important needs in future.