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Volunteering with VSO Ireland... one year on

A year after his VSO volunteer placement ended, Mayo man Eoin O’Maoileoin has found a new job and life in Papua New Guinea. This is his story...

Taking the plunge

As I sit to write this piece in my office in St. Peter Chanel College I am listening in the background to a group of our recently graduated students constructing a pedestal to display a plaque honouring their role as pioneer graduates of the college. Four years ago when the Archdiocese of Rabaul in Papua New Guinea took the decision to found a college for teachers of science, mathematics and religion, 89 students took a leap of faith and signed up. On the 25th of November, 36 of them graduated. It was my honour and privilege to walk a part of the journey with them. 

In July 2015, after 33 years as a teacher of physics and mathematics (14 in Blakestown Community School and 19  in Castleknock Community College), I retired and took off to Papua New Guinea as a volunteer with VSO Ireland. For Eoin O Maoileoin, Mayo Man and permanent, pensionable teacher, it was quite a jump. When PNG was first mentioned to me I said “Papua New Where?” But well prepared by VSO and emboldened by the pride and inspiration of my three daughters away I went.  

The first one and a half years of as a volunteer with VSO had me working in a dual role. As well as being a staff member in Chanel College, I worked in VSO’s Teacher Education Support Programme where I supported lecturers from Primary Teacher Training Colleges to enhance their mathematical teaching skills. On completion of my term with VSO in November 2016, I became a volunteer with the Archdiocese and continued my work with Chanel.

Time to reflect

One year later, it is a good time to reflect on the experience of being a volunteer with VSO and the year thereafter.

About a month before I left Ireland I spoke at a VSO meeting for people considering becoming volunteers. I said then, that even before leaving, my life had been changed. In the space of a few months a timeline which was really fulfilling, but totally predictable had become open ended and exciting. That open endedness and excitement has not abated in the least.

Being immersed in a completely new culture is both a challenge and pleasure. In the last year I have found myself less at sea and my deputy academic and good friend Ann Chan tells me I am becoming more and more Melanesian in my ways. The ease and gentle pace of life has been good to absorb. Who cares if it does not happen today it might happen tomorrow (that also applied to getting this article in to VSO. “Sorry Annette”).

PNG is an 800 tribe, 800 language kaleidoscope. People I work with have different languages, customs, music and dance. Yet they share a common welcome and kindness. For 30 months that has been my experience. Heat, power cuts, internet which is so slow, roads that rock the bones are easy to take when you are surrounded by such people. The power just went off as I wrote that sentence, I kid you not!

Professional development

At a professional level, all has also changed utterly but it is a wonderful beauty which was born. Before I came I hoped only that I could pass on teaching skills and what it was to be a teacher and to love it. Preparing teachers to teach in a country where pure talk and talk is the norm means that just teaching the topic is not enough. The college aspires to ‘Make a Difference’. For that to happen the students must see a different way of teaching and the challenge every day, every class is to link the maths or the physics to how they can make it real and different for their students. 

Have I succeeded? I don’t know. They cannot have missed my love and passion for teaching. I include three quotes not in any self-serving way but to illustrate for those of you who may be thinking of volunteering the richness of experience that can await.

Hesler while on teaching practice:
 “Mr. Eoin you have showed me ways to teach that I could never have imagined”
Anthony after last maths class:
 “You have got us to understand things that we never believed we could learn”
Grace at graduation:
 “You have shown me a completely different way to look at maths”

What next?

The experience has been amazing. PNG has opened up new vistas of relationship, friendship (both volunteers and Papua New Guineans) and a wealth of mind broadening experiences.

At the beginning of 2018 who knows what lies ahead. The vista of my future has gone from predictable to being wide open.

In a short piece it is impossible to capture the colour, excitement and joy of my time as a VSO volunteer and since. I can only say to anyone thinking of volunteering to go for it. You have no idea of the riches that may await you. 


If you're interested in volunteering overseas like Eoin, check out our vacancies pages or get in touch!


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