Our association with Kiribati (pronounced ‘kee-ree-bus’), dates back to 1967 when the first of 34 volunteers took up an assignment there. More recently, three volunteers worked in Kiribati in 2004-2005 on waste management and special needs education assignments. From February 2011 VSA’s Kiribati programme will focus on promoting economic development with volunteers working at the Kiribati Maritime Training Centre on Tarawa. Assignments in Kiribati are a mixture of short-term input around technical and management advice and long-term input building skills and capacity over time. The Kiribati programme is managed from our Wellington office.
Val Duthie was an English as a Second Language Trainer at the Marine Training Centre, Kiribati. She completed her assignment in May 2013. View Profile
The Republic of Kiribati, formally the Gilbert Islands, is made up of 32 atolls and one raised coral island – Kirimati (Christmas) Island. Kiribati has around 99,000 inhabitants, most tend to live in densely populated areas. With the largest sea-to-land ratio in the world there are an estimated 137 people per square kilometre (compared to around 45 worldwide). Approximately one-quarter of the population live in the capital South Tarawa on the atoll of Tarawa.
The people of Kiribati are Micronesian. The mwaneaba (community house) is traditionally the centre of community life where community discussions, council meetings and celebrations take place and where important decisions are made. Relationships are the core of Kiribati culture and the family is also the central point for education and learning. Christianity is the main religion although there are number who practice the Baha’i faith.
Kiribati is one of the least developed countries in the world with few remaining natural resources. The majority of Kiribati’s economy is based on a subsistence lifestyle with around 80% of the population relying on fishing for their livelihood. One-fifth of the country’s GDP now comes from tourism. The economy is also dependent on development aid, overseas family remittances and fishing license fees.
Climate change is a major issue. Most of the country sits just one-two metres above sea level. Although health indicators have improved in recent years, Kiribati has the highest infant mortality rate in the Pacific. There is low life expectancy and a high incidence of nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. Tuberculosis is a serious health problem, there are regular outbreaks of dengue fever, and occasional cases of leprosy and typhoid. Economic development is constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, high unemployment, weak infrastructure, high population density in urban areas and remoteness from international markets.
We provide volunteers with basic, furnished accommodation. Volunteers have access to telephones and the internet. Kiribati has 24-hour power (through a diesel generator) although power outages are a regular occurrence. Volunteer housing has gas facilities for cooking. Kiribati has the same electrical plug socket and voltage as New Zealand. All water should be boiled or purified for consumption and volunteers are advised to not drink well water. Water bottles can be purchased for general consumption from stores in town.
There are many stray dogs in Kiribati, so if you do decide to walk on the streets do so during the day and walk with a stick to keep the dogs from attacking you. Volunteers are not advised to walk around in the evenings alone.
We encourage our volunteers to dress conservatively. Loose fitting, light, cotton clothing is best. Dresses, skirts and t-shirts are commonly worn (sleeveless is acceptable) but don't expose skin above the knee, especially when attending traditional events. For men, choose long pants, knee-length shorts and short-sleeved shirts.
We provide all volunteers with a thorough security briefing prior to departure and specific local issues are covered during your in-country orientation. In case of an emergency in Tarawa you can contact the following: Operator (Emergency Service Only) (199), Police (192), Fire (193), Ambulance (194).
Precautionary measures are recommended, such as insect repellent and long sleeves/ trousers in the evening if outside and a mosquito net if you are staying in villages. Skin infections can develop quickly so have a good supply of plasters, antibiotic cream and antibiotics.There is one main hospital on Tarawa and a private hospital with a General Practitioner (GP) at The Marine Training Centre (MTC) in Betio. Volunteers are advised to use the GP at MTC. You will need to be responsible for managing your own health while on assignment.
Kiribati uses the Australian dollar (AUD). The ANZ Bank is the only international banking company in Kiribati with operating branches on South Tarawa and Kiritimati Island. On South Tarawa, ATMs are accessible at Betio, Bairiki, Bikenibeu ANZ bank branches and at the gate of Tungaru Central Hospital in Nawerewerev. A visitor may carry up to $5000 cash when traveling to Kiribati. Major foreign currencies and travelers cheques can be exchanged at the ANZ Bank. VISA & Master Cards are currently the only major credit cards accepted in Kiribati but you won't be able to use credit cards on outer islands. Western Union Money Transfer Agency has an international branch located in Betio, Bairiki, Abarao and Nawerewere on South Tarawa providing you with the quickest way to send and receive money.
is only one cellular provider in Kiribati. Coverage is generally good within
urban areas but fades quickly as you move to rural locations. Volunteers can
purchase SIM cards and use a pre-paid package. Mobile phones in
Kiribati can only contact mobile phones abroad that have SIM card accessibility.
You cannot text internationally.
Internet cafes are available in town but the connection can be slow.