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Dr. Sheri's Blog

Checking In Down Under

I'm sitting and relaxing in the comfortable and relatively quiet Qantas club in Sydney, after my decidedly uncomfortable and noisy red-eye flight from Darwin. I have a few hours before I leave to visit family in Canberra, so it seemed a good time to catch up on my blog.
I arrived in Darwin just two weeks ago, for my third trip to my three schools in the Outback. I was excited to check in; to be honest, I had missed my Australian friends and the children I've grown so fond of. I arrived to a different climate than what I've experienced in my past visits. It's currently the dry season in the Northern Territory, which means that the endless humidity and rain that happens in the wet season has taken a short break. The weather was beautiful - still hot, but hot and dry, with a nice breeze to cool things down just a little.
Because it's the dry season, I wasn't traveling via small plain. Instead, I was traveling with my Aussie colleague in a very nice 4WD SUV (or a "ute," as they are called here). We left Darwin very early on Monday morning for our approximately four-hour trip to our first school. The first part of the trip was really good - paved, two-lane road and very little traffic. However, an hour or so into the drive, the road narrowed, and I felt that I was driving through the infamous narrow roads in rural England. We drove along for about an hour on that narrow road, when the pavement ended completely, and we bounced along on dirt, sand, and rocks for the remainder of the journey. Eventually we arrived at our first school, the smallest of my schools, and the one that exhibited the most challenging behavior in the past.
We parked the car and climbed the steps to the school, a little puzzled by the silence that greeted us. It turned out that the students had been held over after a weekend festival several hours away, which meant that we were able to work with the teachers and assistant teachers on data collection and lesson delivery. We left later that afternoon and drove to the next community, which was about an hour away. We got to the community and met up with the principal, who gave us the keys to our housing for the week. 
We soon discovered that we would be staying in an interesting little house. We each had our own room, which opened onto an outdoor corridor, which led to the common room, which housed the kitchen, living room, and bathroom facilities. It was comfortable, and clean, but somewhat strange in that any trip to the bathroom, or the kitchen, required a short walk outside, along with the need to lock and unlock the doors in between. Needless to say, such an arrangement makes one seriously reconsider the amount of liquid one consumes in the later hours of the day! Furthermore, we learned that we were not the only ones staying in the house. One afternoon I used the bathroom, flushed the toilet, and was quite surprised when something brown jumped out of the toilet at me. I looked down to see this little guy holding on for dear life.

 I'm happy to report that he eventually escaped the toilet and we didn't have any more "surprises" when using the facilities!
The next day we were able to visit classes at the school and I was extremely impressed with the growth the students had made in reading and language. It was so rewarding to see the students working hard and to view the incredible progress they had made. We spent three days at the school, then made the drive back to the first school, to see if we could connect with students there.
When we arrived, we were amazed at the sound of students engaged in learning. We could hear students reading and answering together. When we entered the class, I was greeted with cries of, "Miss Sheri!" - but none of the students jumped up or lost focus in the lesson. I was over-joyed to see the students reading so well. Even the students who had struggled a great deal in the beginning were reading and completing their workbook pages with a minimal amount of help. Moreover, their behavior was much improved. We spent time in the two classes that comprise the school, then took off to make the bumpy, dusty, somewhat hair-raising ride back to Darwin.
I was able to connect with a couple of Americans who are doing the same work I'm doing, and we spent a wonderful weekend shopping, eating, and taking a sunset cruise on the bay. It was a terrific weekend, but come Tuesday morning, it was back on the road!
The ride on Tuesday morning was not too different from the ride the week before, with one exception - we saw kangaroos (well, wallabies, actually - but they're pretty-much just smaller kangaroos)!  


We also saw water buffalo, brumbies, and a couple of wild bulls.
We spent some more time at our biggest school, meeting with teachers and enjoying observing student progress. We then went on to our third school, where we were once again pleasantly surprised by the progress the students had made. The first night we were there, we took a drive out to the flood plain, which was accessible only because the water had dried up in the dry season.
As we drove through the plain, we came upon a disturbing sight - at least a half-dozen dead horses, at least what was left after the scavengers had had a go. It was an extremely creepy sight, and we are not quite sure what the carnage was a result of.

Despite the grisly discovery on our drive, we were treated to a lovely view of the sunset, in a nice quiet spot next to a small pond.

On our last day in the community, we delivered an in-service session to the three schools, at the most centrally located school. Teachers and assistant teachers from the schools came together to learn, and to connect. They all contributed to morning tea, and a BBQ lunch, which were both incredible. Living in the Australian Outback, in a remote community, can be rather lonely, and it seems that everyone appreciated a chance to get together and learn more about each other.
We soon had to hit the road again, back to Darwin for the last time (this trip). On the way back, we passed several sections where the bush was being burned, which is what is needed to promote renewed growth in the Outback. It's a little alarming to drive past a section of the land that is burning, but I was assured that it is planned, and that the burning is safely controlled. In any case, it makes for an eery filter through which to view the wild country!
All in all, this was a trip that was marked by extremes. The beauty of the sunsets, the eeriness of the dead horses...the lush greenness of the Outback, and the smoky haze of the controlled burnings...the joy of hearing children learning, and the heartbreak of learning more about what they live through, and experiencing first-hand the ways they can be hurt. I have been permanently touched by my experiences so far, and my heart aches for the children, while deeply hoping that Margaret Mead was right when she said, "never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has." I'm not out to change the world, but if I can have a part of changing the future for a group of very special young people, then I pray I am up to the task!
Cheers until next time!

23 Comments to Checking In Down Under:

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Kathie Phillips on Friday, July 03, 2015 6:43 PM
Sheri, This is such a great account of your wonderful work! I'm so happy that you have had the opportunity to experience the world but even more excited that the teachers and children with whom you are working have the opportunity to benefit from your knowledge and experience. I know how much you have to offer. Well done!
Reply to comment on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 10:26 PM
What a beautiful story. I loved it. I love to travel, go to places I have never been to, and enjoy the scenery and nature. I love to drive. I don't mind driving long distance places because I feel free and relaxed every time I unite with my car. And I would love to have a 4WD SUV too. It would be so cool to have one of those in my garage. We could see the article as an exciting adventure because of the places and mode of transportation they had put in a deeper meaning and perspective, it was about life, growth, and death. It was a cycle of life. The teacher was the mentor and the students were the prodigy. Eventually, they will be the ones who will teach the next generation. The improvement of the children reflects the journey of our lives. The horse represents death which we all encounter in our own time. I was able to relate to the story because I am a teacher too. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with the young ones and affecting their lives is very fulfilling. Priceless.

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