Elissa - Cagliero Volunteer


9 August 2012 | General Interest

Six Months in Savai'i

Elissa Galante

Elissa was a volunteer with the Cagliero Project.  She lived and worked at Don Bosco High School and Vocational Centre in Salelologa, Savai'i.  She returned to Australia in July and has since had the opportunity to reflect upon her experiences.


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It’s hard to believe that I’m sitting on my couch, heater blaring, ten layers of clothing and wrapped in a blanket when two weeks ago I was cooling down in front of a fan, trying to escape the heat for just one moment. The past six months feels like a big dream, an elongated blink, something that I vividly imagined.

I was given the opportunity to volunteer as a Secondary school teacher at Don Bosco High School and Vocational Centre in Samoa through the Cagliero Project. In January of this year, I ventured off into the unknown and began my big Samoan adventure.

My job for the six months was to be the Computer Studies teacher and to take over from the previous Cagliero Project volunteer, Michael Billington. Michael had set up an amazing Computer Lab within the school’s Library consisting of 30 computers. It was such an interesting, eye-opening experience to teach the students how to not only use computer programs, but how to perform tasks that we in Australia deem innate, such as turning on the computer or clicking the mouse. In one of my first Year 9 classes, I showed a student how to turn on the computer, and when the image came up on screen she squealed and looked at me in shock. Not only was it very cute, it highlighted to me how important the student’s computer classes were going to be and how excited and enthusiastic they all were about the new technology they now had access to. Their enthusiasm gave me confidence as their teacher and made each of my school days enjoyable. Their computer classes are now in the safe hands of a local girl, Mena, who I had the opportunity to teach with and train in my last couple of months of my volunteering time.

It goes without saying that in any type of experience like this, there are always going to be challenges. Don Bosco High School is situated on the island of Savai’i, the largest of the two main Samoan islands, yet the less developed and less populated island. The school, situated very much in the jungle, was quite remote, and as my accommodation was within the school grounds, the isolation proved my biggest challenge. The people that I met and became friends with over my time helped me overcome this challenge, along with the amazing support provided to me from the Cagliero Project in Australia. With the challenges however, came wonderful positives and learning curves. Samoa’s culture is rich with the importance of family, generosity and hospitality and this was something that I was constantly immersed in and really cherished. 

Having been involved with the Salesians from a young age, I understand the importance of working with young people and the impact that a Leader or role model of any form can have on a young person’s life. My main goal to achieve throughout my six months (other than teaching the students computer skills) was to simply be a presence with the youth at the school and to be a warm, friendly person who the kids could feel comfortable around. I feel I accomplished that and am honoured to have met every single one of those students.

Volunteering with the Cagliero Project was a rewarding and life-changing experience which I will be forever grateful to be given the opportunity. I know that I will never forget the teachers, the Samoan community and of course the wonderful students who will always have a place in my heart.