Experienced Maitland nurse finds a second home

The March edition of Aurora introduced experienced nurse from Maitland, Sue Bartlett, who was about to head to Kiribati on a two-year mission under the auspices of Palms Australia.

At that time Sue was, understandably, both excited and a little anxious as a new calling beckoned.

A few months in, Sue reports on her experience volunteering with the Kiribati Catholic Education Office to improve the health of local students.

I’m working at a high school in Taborio, North Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati.

I arrived here towards the end of February to work as a school nurse. I spent six months, beginning with my initial inquiry to Palms Australia, following an item I read in my local church newsletter, preparing for my placement. That time was well spent with interviews, an orientation course and an opportunity to meet other people who had been volunteers through the organisation.

I arrived in South Tarawa feeling tired and unsure if I had made the right decision in coming here. My first impression of South Tarawa was not good, and as I was only there for two days before I set off in the school motor boat with my luggage and fridge (which I needed for medications I take) to North Tarawa, it didn’t change then. I was greeted by the principal and half a dozen students who carried my belongings to my new home. I had been given a flat which, although basic, the nuns had gone to great trouble to make welcoming. I had a proper bed, a ceiling fan and a bathroom; it was as good as a palace to me.

My first impressions were of a picturesque tropical isle; trees, lagoon on one side and sea on the other, local huts. However, on closer inspection it was clear the school was struggling to provide a thorough education to the students under very difficult circumstances. I don’t think the students realise how fortunate they are as the school and the Ministry of Education tries to give them a complete education that includes formal schooling as well as traditional culture.

The second week I was in Kiribati I managed to come down with the local gastro bug and instead of the nurse looking after the students and staff they had to look after me, which wasn’t part of the plan at all! In retrospect I think it helped the school community accept me, especially as they took great interest in my weight loss!

Over the following months, on my infrequent visits, my impressions of South Tarawa changed. I could see past the overcrowding to the improvements being implemented wherever I went. Every visit I can see changes happening for the better.

I have just returned from a visit home to Australia during the term holidays to catch up with family and to undertake some studies needed to complete my work here in Kiribati. I was welcomed back to Kiribati like a long-lost friend, and I feel like I have returned to my second home. I can’t wait to put into practice the things I have learned in the last few weeks.

You can find out more about Sue’s placement and support her work here.

This story first appeared on Palms Australia's website.

Image (c) John Bradley 2018

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.