Read stories from the field spanning 50 years of VSA volunteering.
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Published on 4th May 2012
Russell Priest volunteered in 1968 at the Melanesian Mission junior boys’ secondary school on Ugi Island, Eastern Solomon Islands.
At Pawa, the Melanesian Mission junior boys’ secondary school on Ugi Island off the coast of San Cristobel in the Eastern Solomon Islands, 1968.
I taught maths, science and animal husbandry. I was also responsible for managing a herd of 100 beef breeding cows and a 40-hectare coconut plantation.
Being able to experience a totally different culture where life’s primary focus was enjoyment and not the accumulation of material wealth. Also being given the responsibilities of both teaching and managing very significant and critically important assets and enjoying the personal satisfaction that these two roles brought.
Your most vivid memory?
While at Pawa I became friendly with one of the school prefects. When the school year finished he invited me back to his village for 3 weeks. During this time I played some rugby with a local team, represented the expats in a match against the Solomon Island team and experienced first hand a cyclone that destroyed the whole village I was staying in.
When I returned to New Zealand I corresponded with Edward for about six months then the mail from him 'dried up'. However, 6 months ago (after 44 years!) a short airmail letter arrived from him. One of his sons had used a friend’s internet access to google my name, found some articles I had written for the NZ media along with my previous employer’s address, who forwarded the letter to me.
I am now regularly in touch with Edward through his son who lives in Honiara. Edward is retired and lives quite close to Pawa. After qualifying with a certificate in agriculture he was posted to a number of locations throughout the Solomons as an agricultural consultant before setting up an agricultural training college on San Cristobel. The local chief was so appreciative of Edward’s good work that he gave him an area of land and this is where he now lives with some of his family. I hope to return to the Solomons soon to renew our friendship. He is now a very old man in Solomon Island terms (the average life expectancy of a male is about 50 years) so I had better not leave it too long!
I am now retired and living on an 11-hectare lifestyle block, which has been in family ownership for 105 years and is part of a 330-hectare sheep and beef property that my wife and I farmed for 25 years. My wife and I spend one day per week doing voluntary work for the Arohanui hospice and are kept very busy maintaining and developing our large garden and arboretum.
My year with VSA has been the most life-changing year of my life, in that I went away as a boy and returned as a man! I learnt so much about the fundamentals of life. I was hugely influenced by the island people and their values and firmly believe that we could all benefit from a 'dose' of them. I will be forever grateful to VSA for the life-changing experience I had.
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