Looking beyond the classroom

Furniture being loaded into shipping containers. 189299_01

When Pakenham Springs Primary School says their mission is to educate students to become respectful and informed members of the local and global community, they mean it.

More than 900 desks, chairs and other classroom items were recently donated by the entire school community to students in Papua New Guinea and Kiribati – enough to fill eight containers.

Anticipating the time when new furniture for the school could be purchased, school Principal Kerryn Baillie didn’t want to just throw out the old furniture – it was used but still usable.

She was referred to Pacific Assist, an Australian and New Zealand based not-for-profit charity that arranges for the collection and shipping of quality second-hand school furniture to South Pacific Islands.

“We’re just absolutely thrilled to be able to help others,” Principal Baillie said. “What an opportunity for our students and staff to impact the world on this level.”

Riki Tukukino, Director of Pacific Assist said, “Because of the generosity of Pakenham Springs Primary School and others, help can be given to those countries who don’t have much or anything at all. It gives us all a great sense of achievement knowing that we are able to help those on the other side of the earth.”

When ‘Operation Furniture’ – as the project came to be known – was brought forth to the school council, they quickly jumped on board.

“We see this as a real-life application of what we have been learning all year. We also hope to foster pen-pal relationships with our students and those in Papua New Guinea and Kiribati,” School Council Vice President, Alicia Keyser said.

Not only did the school donate school furniture, but they also had a successful fundraising project to help with the shipping costs.

According to school business manager Sue Northover, over $6200 was raised in a school-sponsored election day sausage sizzle.

The amount raised was enough to cover the costs for an entire container of furniture.

Pakenham parents, school staff and those from the wider community chipped in their own time, resources and means to the initiative; many teachers prepared students for ‘Operation Furniture’ by encouraging them to write notes to their Pacific recipients, taping them to the back of their chairs.

One note read, “Dear student, I live in Australia. This was my chair.”

Another student note said, “You have a very special chair. I have sat in it. These chairs are very comfortable, and they bring me happiness.”

Class by class and in orderly fashion, the primary school students brought their chairs and desks out to the basketball courts where the containers were located. Then over 30 volunteer missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints loaded the containers with the donated furniture.

Students were without their desks and chairs for the school day following the handover which was also the last day before the Christmas break. New desks and chairs will await them when they return the end of January, but this gave students an idea of what it must be like for many students in Papua New Guinea and Kiribati to be without basic school furniture.