Spotlight on Leafa Vagatai
SEA Regional Team Member Leafa Vagatai is on a six-month study abroad in the Philippines, doing her best to embody one of our organizational mottos: “what we do here is what we do there.”
Leafa’s desire to serve has resulted in consistent volunteerism, from our community garden to our youth after-school and to summer children’s programs. These opportunities have enabled her to develop skills that are transferable to any environment. In addition to volunteering she works in children’s education. If anyone were to witness her classroom, from her ukulele welcome to her storytelling magic, they would understand why Leafa considers teaching young children a calling, not a job.
Leafa brings creativity to all her lessons, evidenced in her innovative approaches to Bible lessons for her preschool class. Not only does she write and record original Bible songs, but also helps the children create props for the stories they act out. She frequently takes the children to the garden where she utilizes her knowledge of agriculture to accompany the lesson. After persevering through her own learning challenges related to deficiencies in her educational experience as a youth, Leafa is passionate about helping others deprived of education, a fundamental human right.
Leafa’s training, dedication, and commitment has made her a competent contributor to our third world development efforts. Since January, Leafa has implemented her education and training in an after-school program and a tutorial program for remedial elementary students in Leyte, Philippines, an island ravished by typhoon Yolanda in 2013. Although the tragedy and pain the children experienced have left them far behind where they should be at their age, Leafa is committed to their restoration and empowerment.
In the tutorial program she brings the same innovation and creativity to her lessons as she does in the United States. Reading rhythms in music becomes a lesson in fractions, shells found on the beach make necklaces for art class, and “Go Fish” becomes a fun English lesson that teaches the kids how to ask a question and give a proper response. In addition to covering standard subjects, she focuses on the children’s character development. Utilizing personal stories to teach moral lessons, kids listen and help write their own story. After some editing they will turn it into a small book and even learn how to do bookbinding.
Literacy lessons go beyond empowering the kids to read and write to include activities that foster in them an ability to understand their world and make good decisions. One such lesson was on soil and trash. She took them outside to observe a landscape filled with trash (Three years after Yolanda, these sites are still common). The children then wrote and read their observations aloud. She then asked them a question to provoke dialogue, “what kind of ‘waste’ is best for the soil?” This got them thinking about how to clean-up an environment and how food that comes from the ground can be separated and used as compostable material in order to grow more food. She even gave them hands on experience making a compost bin.
Leafa’s service is an example of “what we do here, is what we do there.” Her activity shows how a person's ability to enact effective development work in the third world is contingent upon their skills already being developed, so that they aren't experimenting on the people they serve. Leafa has learned that she herself is the resource, a lesson we want all of our graduates to recognize.