Something about being around preschoolers for a while just puts a person in a good mood. Watching their shy little smiles quickly turn into boisterous laughter serves as a reminder of how easy it can be to meet new people and try new things. For our latest service project I helped out with the Mobile Kindy preschool classes by going out to Suva’s surrounding villages with the teachers and setting up the temporary classrooms.
Without a dedicated kindergarten or preschool facility in these villages, the program uses community meeting rooms or residents’ homes for the classes. The teachers show up faithfully each day, open their bin full of puzzles, toys and books, and then wait for students to arrive. In some communities, parents are dedicated in bringing their youngsters to every class and even stay to watch the afternoon of activities. These struggling families see Fiji’s free education system as the only way to give their children the best possible future, so they take full advantage of the Mobile Kindy program to prepare their kids’ for formal schooling.
Other communities have been harder to reach. The teachers dutifully show up, but usually have just a few students and sometimes no students at all. Early education and the benefits of the free preschool program haven’t yet been fully embraced by the local community. This was the case in one village we visited. As other young children walked by the small meeting room, Miss Layla led the day’s two participants in songs, stories, and other activities. The program director hopes to organize a community dinner in the future where they can talk with parents about the Mobile Kindy program and help them see the advantages it can give their young children before starting at the public school.
Organizations like Think Pacific bring full time volunteers to Mobile Kindy and other community programs in Fiji. Students taking a year to volunteer around the world are placed with the program for their time in Suva, and then move on to another program in the Pacific islands. We’ve met a lot of these “gap year” students throughout our travels. In talking with them, it’s clear their service experiences have a tremendous positive impact as they plan their own futures. This gap year concept is something we can definitely see our own daughters doing when they’re older.
I’ve been so impressed with the Mobile Kindy program and its leaders. They saw a problem, gathered people to help, got assistance from major global organizations and created a program that can be sustained into the future. Their reward will be knowing that some of these kids will be more successful in their education as a result of their efforts.