Home' Rangitikei Mail : June 21st 2012 Contents 9
THURSDAY, JUNE 21, 2012
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Memorable year volunteering
Island style: In 1958 Russell Priest
lived in a grass hut in the Solomons
where he taught young men, mostly
older than himself. Photos: SUPPLIED
Teacher: Russell Priest 44 years ago with two of the students he taught in the Solomon Islands.
By BOBBIE NICHOLLS
VSA or Volunteer Service Abroad
is New Zealand's largest
international volunteering agency,
sending Kiwi volunteers on long
and short-term assignments in
Melanesia, Polynesia and East
Over the past 50 years VSA has
recruited more than 3500
ordinary New Zealanders to share
their skills voluntarily.
VSA works with partner
organisations to make sure that
all assignments are locally
identified, relevant and delivered.
This is the story of one man's
experience of a year of
volunteering which changed his
view of the world.
It started 44 years ago but for
Kiwitea farmer Russell Priest,
the adventure which helped to
mould him as a man has come full
In 1968, after leaving St Paul's
Collegiate in Hamilton and before
starting his tertiary studies, Russell
volunteered to work overseas for a
year. Nowadays it would be called a
Russell applied and was accepted
by VSA to work at All Hollows
School, an Anglican Melanesian
Mission secondary school for boys
(now Pawa Provincial Secondary
School), in the Solomon Islands, a
brother school to St Paul's.
Russell found the experience life-
He arrived on the island by boat
and was welcomed by the English
headmaster who immediately set
him to work building cattle yards.
Having been brought up in a big
happy family on an isolated Wai-
kato farm, tasks such as managing
the herd of 100 cattle or fencing
were no problem. He was teaching
by example. He was less familiar
with the 100 acres of coconuts for
which he was responsible.
But in the classroom it was a dif-
ferent matter. Although there were
no records of their births, most of
the boys were in their early 20s.
One was reputed to be 33. After
years of substandard education they
were bored in class. It required
innovative ideas to teach science
and maths in English and some-
times in Pidgin.
Each boy had a garden plot in the
highlands of the islands and Russell
spent time working with them after
school hours. In the weekends they
dived together on the coral reef,
cooking and eating their catch on
Island life was simple,
subsistence by New Zealand
standards, and there was a lot of
suffering and superstition.
The school chapel was like a
cathedral and the singing, out of
this world,'' Russell said.
Although he slept in a grass hut
with no windows and rats and
insects in the roof, the heat and
humidity meant Russell's northern
European skin literally rubbed off.
He loved his year there and made
friends among the Solomon
Islanders who took him to stay with
At the end of his time there, the
head boy at the school, Edward
Houi invited the New Zealander to
stay in his village on Malaita
Island. Russell played rugby for the
ex-pats against the Islanders.
They wanted to give me a feast
before I left but there was no meat
so we walked, barefoot into the
interior to find a pig and I was the
first white person some of the high-
land villagers there had seen.''
Edward and Russell corresponded
for about six months then the
Last winter, Russell and his wife
Jane talked about returning to the
Solomons for a holiday.
I am afraid the multi-national
logging companies will have
destroyed the islands and coral reefs
I knew,'' Russell said.
Then out of the blue, an
aerogramme letter arrived from
He had become an agricultural
consultant and set up an agricult-
ural training college. He now lives
in retirement on an island just
across the water from the mission
One of his sons, an engineer had
searched for Russell's name on the
internet and come up with the
articles he wrote for rural media.
From this Edward found an address
which eventually reached Russell.
Russell been emailing Edward's
son and is planning to visit his old
Don't go to work fried
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