Loughborough College of Education Commemorative Awards
Report from Benjamin Nash
Department of Geography
“Bing!” the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign flashed on, moments later the plane began to descend as the feelings in my stomach made themselves heard. My whole body tingled in a confused manner, a mix of nerves, excitement and the unknown. I was finally returning to the wonderful South Pacific islands of Vanuatu, meeting a promise and realising a dream. I couldn’t believe I was back on the other side of the world.
Tentatively I walked down the exterior stairs on to the tarmac, fell to my knees, paused, and kissed the ground. Roars bellowed from a group of locals in the outside arrivals area, I didn’t know their names and they didn’t know mine but that didn’t matter in the slightest, in a place like this everyone is your family.
One night in the capital then the weekly flight to my island, Ambae, where in 2003 I’d taught as a voluntary teacher and been honoured for my efforts by becoming a Junior Chief in a tribal custom ceremony. The twin-otter 15-seater plane sped down the uncut grass runway, turned around and stopped outside Longana Airport, a building with no windows and about the size of my garage. The pilot and I unloaded the bags, pigs, chickens and vegetables for the market before in a blink of an eye it was gone, flying overhead to the next desert island of the archipelago.
Staying with an old friend, an expatriate India teacher who’d been my Dad during the 8 months away from home first time round, I soon got down to business and spread the word about my Community Sports Inclusion Project. Some of the teachers in the school knew about it following correspondences during the months planning when I was still in England, but without even basic technological infrastructure, the local community of NE Ambae were none-the-wiser.
Sport and physical recreation is not just physical but also incorporates a mental, social, emotional, creative and equally important ethical aspect. I’ve learnt this through my own personal, having seen many highs and many lows but after all this I remembered the inherent benefits these gave to mine and other people’s lives. This is what I wanted to show and work through with the Ambaean people so they could see for themselves.
After much walking, talking and reminiscing about old times drinking the local drink in palm leaf huts, word got round that I was back on the island and doing something ‘interesting’ linked to sports.
Each day I rocked up at the Chief’s Meeting House on time, only to remember that I was still running on ‘Inglan Taem’ (England Time), and not ‘Islan Taem’ (Island Time) where everything is taken at a much more gently pace, running anything from 1- 4 hours later than planned.
Working for hours at a time, sometimes without a break and speaking solely in Bislama (the national Language), I was continuously challenged physically, mentally emotionally and especially creatively. I didn’t even know if what I was doing was getting taken in or would they be able to use the ideas once I’d gone? However, once engaged in the workshops the locals really began to show their true potential and forget previous inhibitions.
It was working! Wow it was working!! I couldn’t believe it, I seriously couldn’t. Somehow amongst all I’d done with the twenty-something villagers from the local parish, it had clicked. They had seen the light I was holding at the end of the tunnel. At the end the village chief thanked me for my time and efforts I had given his people and the local youth group asked for a copy of my notes so they could spread the word in workshops similar to the ones I ran for them. This was by far and away the greatest feeling I have ever experienced related to sport.
My project has since gained support from the Provincial Government and following a personal meeting with the Minister for Youth and Sports, has gained official recognition from the Central Government. I am in contact with the Australian Commission for Sport and hope to return to Vanuatu in the future and work as part of their Pacific Sports Education Programme.
I sincerely thank the Loughborough College of Education Award for the money donated and the panel for choosing my project as a worthwhile cause. The prize covered expenses of travelling within the country and numerous teaching resources for the workshops.