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School Visits in Rarotonga

Picton Castle has a special relationship with three elementary schools in Rarotonga – Avatea School, Avarua School and Nikao Maori School. During the ship’s ten day stay in Rarotonga, all students from all three schools came to visit the ship for a tour and the crew were invited to assemblies at each of the three schools.

Donated books and school supplies are what initially opened the door for these relationships. Before this world voyage began, we collected donations of school books and supplies from a number of different individuals, schools and organizations in Nova Scotia. Thanks to the generosity of so many folks at home, we are able to bring these much-needed supplies to schools around the world. All books and supplies were packed into clear plastic bags and sealed with packing tape by our crew before the ship sailed from Nova Scotia for travel in the ship’s hold in tropical conditions on their way to the places where they’ll be given away.

When we knew we were on our way back to Rarotonga, we made contact with the three schools we’ve worked with before to let them know we had books for them and also to invite them aboard the ship. Over the course of five mornings, Monday to Friday last week, we had over 300 students, ages 3 to 12, aboard the ship. Chibley, the ship’s cat, was adored by all of the students, on the few occasions she chose to make her presence known (often when there are crowds on board she gets a bit shy and finds a comfy bunk below decks to curl up in). The students had the full tour, and many of them were able participate in some of the things we do – helping to set sails to dry them and heaving along on the windlass. Our galley crews were also kept busy baking cookies so that each student could have a glass of juice and cookies for a snack while on board. Many of the visiting students went home with Picton Castle “tattoos” – the ship’s stamp inked somewhere on their bodies. With local music pumping from our stereo system, most tours wrapped up with a dance party on the hatch. The crew had a pile of fun with all of the students who came to visit.

Our crew visits to each of the three schools were magical. Monday morning we packed up the truck with books and crew members for our trip to Nikao Maori School. Once there, we were seated on the porch to observe the students in their morning routine of prayers and songs, lined up in the school yard in front of us. In addition to the primary school, Nikao Maori School has a preschool for children ages 3 to 5, and even they stood in their lines and joined in the with the singing. As the students went to their classrooms to start the day, we went to the staff room with some of the teachers and parents where they fed us enormously with all sorts of delicious treats including fresh pawpapw (papaya), homemade donuts and bananas. Nikao Maori School is one of the smallest schools on the island, but the students, teachers and parents put on a huge welcome for us.

On Tuesday morning we packed up the truck again, bound this time for Avarua School. As we walked through the gate, we were met by students who hung fresh flower ‘eis around our necks or on our heads (‘eis are flower necklaces or crowns, worn routinely in the Cook Islands). We were then escorted to chairs where we sat facing the students who were sitting on benches beneath big trees, with a big open space between us. After a prayer, some announcements and a speech from the principal, we were treated to a show by the school’s Culture Team, a group of dancers and musicians who often perform for different events around the island and at the school. In addition to a few group dances, there were two girls who each danced a solo. All of the dances were incredible, and each of the dancers in the Culture Team seemed very pleased and proud to be representing their culture and their school. All of their costumes were traditional Cook Islands wear – grass skirts and coconut bras for the girls, grass skirts with long grass bands around their arms and legs for the boys. Once their performances were done, each member of the Culture Team approached one of our crew to pull us out of the audience and on stage. With the help of our student partners, we were made to dance. This seemed to be the highlight for the students in the audience, laughing and cheering loudly at our attempts at Polynesian dance. Kids in the Cook Islands have been dancing all their lives, so even toddlers who can barely walk are better dancers than most of our crew.

Our final school visit happened Friday morning when we once again packed up the truck with books and headed for Avatea School. We have a particularly close relationship with the students of Avatea as we visited with them at their school on our most recent visit here, five years ago. In the five years that we had been away, the school has built a new hall/auditorium for performances and assemblies. The crew were all greeted with ‘eis as we came through the gate, then led to our seats by the side of the stage. The principal welcomed us all to Avatea School and explained that as we brought books and welcomed the students aboard the ship, many of the students wanted to do something for us, so they brought fruits and vegetables in for us to bring on the ship. There was a very generous pile of bananas, pawpaw , star fruit, and other delicious fresh produce. The first group to perform at Avatea School was the Form 3 class, led by one boy who was one of the best young dancers we saw on the island. The stage was then handed over to the Culture Team who put on an amazing performance. In their opening number, the boys all brought wooden boxes on the stage, which were then used by both the boys and the girls for sitting and standing on throughout the performance. Partway through, chief mate Mike was called up to the front and after one of the students demonstrated how to open a coconut using only a wooden stick, Mike had to give it a go in front of the whole school. Unfortunately the pointy part of the stick bent, so he had some serious difficulties. However, with the help of his student partner, Mike was able to rip the husk apart with his bare hands, earning a round of cheers from the audience. All of us were on stage to dance with the students at the conclusion of their performance. We’re still not great dancers and although we are making some improvements, there was still plenty of laughter at our moves.

All of our school visits, both visiting to the schools and welcoming students aboard the ship, have kept us very busy here in Rarotonga, but we have been so pleased to be able to share our ship and ourselves with these students.

Allison and students at Avatea School
chief mate Mike dances with his partner at Avarua School
Dancing at Avarua School
Shawn plays at Nikao Maori School
students visit the ship in Rarotonga
the Culture Team dances at Avatea School

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