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
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
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.
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.
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
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!