Presence—a word that resonates with VICS’ values and philosphies. We often talk about being present. It’s emphasized in orientations. Though it’s a huge part of our volunteer experience, many of us still wondered whether we were of value, service, or making a difference.
Let me introduce you to Nanotaake. John and I taught with him during our Kiribati posting. Nanotaake was a teacher. He was grounded, worked hard, and truly cared about his students. Fast forward 15 years. Nanotaake is still teaching at St. Joseph’s College, Abaiang. He is part of the school admin team and has been sent by the Catholic Education Office to New Zealand for leadership training. He hasn’t changed. He’s still dedicated, deeply cares about the students and laughs freely.
Nanotaake starts a story with one of his giggles. “You never knew this, but I wondered why the Imatang (foreign) teachers were so effective. I wondered what they did well. You never saw me, but when you were teaching I sat outside the classroom, listened to you and watched what you were doing. I wanted to be a better teacher and learn from you.”
It takes a lot to leave me speechless, but this was certainly one of those times. What? I was being watched? The more I thought about it, the more the word presence kept coming back to me. So, that’s what it is—that’s what VICS talks about!
For all times I’ve had discussions with former Kiribati volunteers, wondering whether we should have been there, my answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Our experience is limited in time and there’s a chance we may never learn the long-term impact of our two-year stay. I’m one of the lucky ones who did.