It occurred to me during the tech session Thursday that I actually did use technology in Tonga. Although high-tech gadgets were not an option, using even the most basic devices opened up a whole new world to my students. To begin, let me put the location into context.
This was the island we lived on.
It was one mile long and one mile wide. No running water but we did have electricity for a couple of hours each night.
There was only one way on and off the island, and that was by boat. A transport boat came once a week (or less) and was the only way to travel the 6-7 hours to the main island to the hospital and a grocery store.
The transport boat did not dock at our island so we would have to take small fishing boats to meet the transport boat in the middle of the ocean.
In our small fishing boats, we would pull up to the open door on the side of the transport boat.
We would have to jump from the small fishing boat, into the transport boat.
This boat was also the only way to transport supplies and animals between the islands.
This is also how we got the barrels of fuel needed in order to run our island’s electricity. The boat workers would push the barrels into the ocean. The men from our island would then tie ropes around the barrels and pull the fuel behind their fishing boat, back to our island.
Since getting off the island was so difficult, very few of my students had ever left the tiny island. Technology brought the world to them.
As part of the Tongan curriculum, the sixth-grade students were studying American government. (Not relevant at all, but mandatory.) They were talking about Obama, and how he was just elected the new president. Someone sent me a DVD of President Obama being sworn in. We waited one night until the electricity came on, and I showed the DVD to the sixth graders and their teacher. They were mesmerized. Not so much by the President, or the ceremony, but by all of the people. Only 300 people lived on their island. There were thousands and thousands in the crowd on the DVD. They couldn’t get over all the people, and all the different colors of people.
Sixth graders also had to learn to write letters. They began writing back and forth with students at my old elementary school in North Dakota. To give the American students an idea of the island my students lived on, we gave them an “island tour”. After my students had learned the vocabulary for the foods they ate on the island, and the places on the island, my students got into groups and made signs with the vocab words. We then went around the island and took photos of the students holding their sign next to the food or place. I eventually was able to take the boat to the main island and uploaded the photos onto Picasa for the American students to see.
We also used technology to raise money for the school. Tongan schools are primarily funded by countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Japan through grant money. I wanted my students to experience earning money. We began hosting a “movie night” every other Friday at the school. When the electricity came on, we would set up a TV and we would play a DVD. The village would pay one dollar per person to come and watch the movie. This taught my students how to earn and manage money. As a class, they would then decide how to spend the money.The movies also exposed the students to English.
My husband Eric used technology in a very unique way. During the final eight months of our Peace Corps service we lived on Tonga’s main island. Eric was assigned to train photographers and reporters at Tonga’s only non-government run television station and newspaper. A major cell phone company, Digicel, contracted the news station to produce a pilot show of “Digicel Stars”, the South Pacific’s version of “American Idol.” It became Eric’s job to produce the show and oversee the crew. They had many challenges. Sometimes they didn’t have electricity and equipment was always breaking. The show aired on Tongan television every Friday night. One Friday, Eric had the show edited and ready to go, but something had happened and he could not get the show off the computer and onto a DVD for it to air on television that night. There was only one man in the whole country who knew how to fix this problem, but he wasn’t available until the following week. The whole country had to wait.
Here is a snippet of a promotional video Eric had to produce for Digicel. It sums up the season. Through this project, the news staff was practicing and bettering their English…and the whole country was exposed to its first Tongan show in the English language.