As part of her ICT course at Carmel College, Year 13 student Megan Fitzpatrick undertook to produce a commercial-quality DVD on the school’s annual feast-day, and to market her product as a fund-raiser for the Catholic college run by Mercy Sisters in Samoa.

Raising close on $1200, the project was one of several run by students and staff at Carmel College in 2009 to support their sister school, Paul VI College in Leulumoega on the main island of Upolu.

Megan’s DVD was among resources which Carmel College principal Kath Deady and Maths teacher Robin Thomas took with them on a week-long visit to work alongside staff and students at Paul VI College at the end of September. But plans were changed dramatically by the tsunami which struck Samoa the day they arrived; the pair joined Sisters of Mercy from the school in relief efforts among families overwhelmed by the tragedy.

This was Kath Deady’s second visit to Samoa. She previously spent time there on sabbatical developing a proposal for ongoing support between the two schools. A close relationship between Carmel and Paul VI has grown over many years, but the links have moved to a new phase, with a focus on pedagogy.

Teachers from both schools have been working together to develop new styles of learning. One practical initiative has been to reverse the practice of assigning students to a particular classroom. This gets students more active, in a climate that can often be soporific; it also means that teachers can set up their classroom as they like.

“If you’re talking about interactive methods of teaching, with students contributing to each other’s learning, you need a different classroom set-up from rows of desks,” Kath Deady explains.

She says that major renovations at Paul VI, funded by the Sisters of Mercy, have made a huge difference to the way the school runs. New laptops are being well used by senior students. And an airy staff-room provides space for collegial planning among teachers.

Others have helped in Samoa this year, as well. Sisters of Mercy Natalie Murphy and Judith Moroney from Wellington have led in-service sessions for teachers at Joan of Arc School next to Paul VI College.

Philip Cortesi, principal of St Anne’s School in Manurewa, has continued over several years to channel funding and professional support to St Theresa’s Primary School in Fusi on Savai’i.

The bulk of Carmel’s fund-raising has gone towards school fees and teacher salaries – which Kath Deady sees as one and the same. “Half the salaries are paid from school fees. If students can’t afford the fees, there’s no money to pay the teachers.”

And the legacy of the tsunami is clear enough. “For the foreseeable future, the community of Paul VI will be supporting family members on the other side of the island with money they can’t afford,” Kath predicts.

“Last year I spent my last weekend in a beach fale in Lalomanu. When I went back this time, it was not there any more. And the woman who owned the resort had been drowned, along with her four children. When I hear the word tsunami, I still have those pictures in my head.”

Reprinted from Mana Atawhai Mercy at Work 2009