It takes a moment to register, but the Kapalpal School, on the island of Tanna, is now finishing its 6th year. How the time has flown! It’s amazing to consider how it has grown and expanded in that time.
Once solely a primary school, today it offers both primary and secondary classes.
From a single, large classroom building in 2009, the school now has 4 buildings for students and separate rooms for each class. In addition, there is a shower block, two toilet blocks, handyman’s shed and a volunteers cottage.
Student population over the years has consistently hovered above 200, and the Bethezer operated school now employs 8 full-time or part-time teachers plus a groundsman/handyman – up from our original 5 teachers and groundsman/handyman. Also, the Vanuatu Education Ministry provides 2 teachers. All of the teachers are locals and live either in homes at the school or nearby.
Though 8 of our teachers are unqualified, each has had some previous teaching experience before coming to Kapalpal. Our teachers improve their teaching skills with training workshops put on by the Education Ministry, which some of our teachers are invited to attend. Possibly most important, they are supported by qualified teachers from Australia. These volunteers focus on extending our teachers’ awareness of teaching strategies and techniques and help them, in short, to become better teachers.
School Bible camps have become an annual feature. Volunteers from Australia come to the school and run the 4-day camps for Years 4 up.
In 2014, with the blessing of the Vanuatu Education Ministry, Kapalpal introduced secondary education with the addition of Years 7 and 8. Years 9 and 10 are coming. The problem for many students graduating from Year 6 was that there are no high schools closer than 11 km from Mt Loanialu, where Kapalpal is located. Fees for secondary education typically are beyond most families in the villages in the general vicinity of Loanialu. (The Year 8 class, with their teacher is shown in the photo, below.)
In fact, only the relatively privileged attend secondary school in Vanuatu, let alone on Tanna. Most high schools in Vanuatu are boarding schools adding further to the expense of secondary education. In contrast to this, Kapalpal has never charged any fees.
Kapalpal now provides facilities for students to shower at the school. This was an important plank in a plan to improve hygiene awareness and to enable to children to bathe regularly with soap.
In 2013, volunteers erected a shower block (the building on the left in the photo, left), with separate areas for boys and girls. There are 4 showers for the guys and 4 for the gals. Members of the community are permitted to use the facilities after school hours. With 24,000 litres of water storage capacity, there’s enough water to go around for most if not all of the year.
Improved hygiene awareness is an important function of the school. Visiting nurse, Rosie Miles, put the initial program together. As she said, “We had practical demonstrations, games (using the parachute and bubbles) fun activities and songs to reinforce the message of why, when and how you wash your hands, when and how to brush your teeth and how to wash and dry yourself, which the children enthusiastically learnt with much laughter and fun.
“The children loved learning how to do this. Two hundred children received a bar of soap in a netted bag, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a towel which they were shown how to embroider their names on.”
Teachers reinforce the importance of good hygiene. This emphasis on hygiene is believed to be a factor in reducing the incidence of sores and skin infections in the children.
At one end of the shower block, a nursing clinic was set up and equipped with basic first aid supplies. Visiting nurses from overseas now use the clinic. In 2014, the Vanuatu government decided to make the clinic an official medical facility for the area.
Since then, private donors from Australia began providing support to enable a trainee nurse to staff the clinic three days per week. The trainee nurse, shown on the left, lives in a village in the area.
The day of the long-drop toilet at the school has come to an end. With the addition of two composting toilet blocks, the school now has permanent toilets.
One teacher, beholding the 2 complete buildings, exclaimed, “We have the best toilets in the whole of Vanuatu.” Well, that could be a bit of excited hyperbole, but the new toilets are smart looking as well as being an efficient method of disposing of human waste.
There are two blocks, one for girls and the other for boys. The boys’ is shown on the left. Both have double vault designs successfully used in the South Pacific.
A sewing program was introduced this year.
With 6 new, electric sewing machines and two experienced seamstresses, the Year 7 and 8 girls were taught to sew.
Instructed by the two experts, the girls sewed underwear, island dresses and skirts for themselves. Some of the Year 8 girls show off their new dresses, left.
While the older girls were learning to sew, the Year 7 and 8 boys were taught wood carving. With new tools provided by Bethezer and local timber they gathered, the boys were taught by a local villager who has sold his wood carvings in Port Vila.
An innovation at the school has been the successful introduction of earth-bag construction techniques.
The aim is to reduce the cost of freighting materials to Loanialu while implementing a technology which locals could adopt with a small amount of training and assistance. Three buildings erected in 2013 and 2014 make use of earth bags. The lower half of the building walls are earth bags and the upper half are timber. Roofs consist of colourbond steel sheets.
The smallest of the 3 buildings, above left, is a classroom, 8 M x 6 M. The largest, above right, is 23 M by 6 M.
The former is the Year 8 classroom (in both photos above, on the left). The latter is a volunteers cottage (photos above, on the right) designed to accommodate two families.Each wing of the cottage consists of a bedroom, toilet, shower, and kitchen. Between the two wings is a large common area featuring a large fireplace which will also serve as a barbeque pit. The cottage is furnished with beds, tables and seats, and gas stoves.
(Photos: above, left, positioning a 6,000-litre water tank near the Volunteers Cottage. above, right, one of several items of furniture built on-site for the Volunteers Cottage.)
We would like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation to the many Bethezer donors and contributors whose generosity have made the Kapalpal School possible. In addition to many such individuals, whose desire for anonymity we could not violate, there have been a small number of organisations who have been very helpful and whom we would like to name: The Wiiliamsburg Christadelphian Foundation;Run For Caleb; Rotary Club of Toowoomba, Australia; Rotary Club of Mitsukaido, Japan; Pacific Seeds and Green Insulation, Queensland.