This September, I had the pleasure of travelling with 14 young girls to the island nation of Kiribati. Not having travelled with a 16 year old girl since I was one myself, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.
However, this wasn’t just any group of high-school girls. These Somerville House students were all selected to take part in ACCF’s Real Life Challenge program which promotes teamwork, leadership and planning skills in the lead up and throughout. Before they even set foot onto the island the girls had been to countless meetings, arranged dozens of fundraisers and put together boxes and boxes of donations for a local primary school. They had packed, they had prepared, they had planned – they were ready. But was I?
There were a lot of things about Kiribati that people had told me, but I wasn’t truly prepared for; the true definition of island time, the genuine friendliness and openness of the people, how good the seafood was; but most of all, the dancing.
Dancing is a part of everyday life in Kiribati. Within 2 hours of landing we’d danced for and with local kids on the side of the road when our bus got a flat tyre and had boogied with over a hundred kids at the primary school we’d be working at over 2 days during our trip.
The use of dance is so ingrained in the Kiribati culture that even when talking about important health issues such as sexual and reproductive health, including the importance of cervical screening and vaccination, there’s a dance involved.
On our second day in Kiribati we met the young volunteers at the Kiribati Family Health Association (KFHA) as they set up for what they call a ‘roadshow’ in the heart of Tarawa. ACCF provides vital funding to KFHA as they raise awareness about and conduct Pap tests for the women of Kiribati.
The girls formed groups with the local volunteers and headed off into the villages to talk to women in their homes about KFHA’s free services, and why they are so vitally important and encouraging them to come down to watch the roadshow, or to go down to KFHA when they could to see one of the nurses.
Upon our return to the roadshow site, a car park in the centre of town, the KFHA volunteers prepared their dance which told a story about a Kiribati family and explained different types of contraception to the crowd. It wasn’t until I turned around to see the crowds of people gathered in the carpark and across the road that I understood the impact this dance was having.
KFHA then asked the girls to come and dance for the crowd and what resulted was an afternoon of health awareness, thumping music and dancing. The crowd tripled as more people gathered to watch and the KFHA volunteers took the opportunity to reiterate important health messages as the girls danced.
This wasn’t to be the end of the dancing we did while in Kiribati, there was some done everyday, but when you consider that cervical cancer is the number one cancer killer of women in Kiribati, it was the dance that had the most impact.
To see more pictures of our time in Kiribati, check out the ACCF Flickr feed.