One thing I forgot to talk about last time was the Vanuatu Christmas tree. We are used to evergreen trees that are cut down, brought home and decorated. We don't see a lot of evergreen trees here in Vanuatu, but we do have a Christmas tree. It's called that because it only blooms at Christmas time and it is very beautiful
We have started a new program here that we are very excited about. We have been searching for a better way for the people here to receive a higher education. The schools and trainings they can attend here are very expensive for them and even with the help of PEF and other loans and grants it has been hard for them to get an education that would get them a better job.
In November we were asked to introduce The BYU-Idaho Pathway program. This is an online program that will allow students to qualify for and gain a degree through BYUI. Depending on where you live the Pathway program is offered at low cost. In the US it is offered at about half the amount per credit as students pay on campus. Here in Vanuatu it is $12.00 a credit. They will take 3 terms with a 5 credit course. When they graduate from the Pathway program, with a B average they can enroll in BYU-Idaho certificate, associate or bachelor degree program in a choice of several different fields, at the same cost of 12 US dollars per credit. We needed to find ten students who would be interested in order to start the program. They were to have access to a computer and internet in order to take the courses as it is totally online. We were concerned because most people here don't have computers and hardly anyone has internet in the home. Our enrollment deadline was December 15 so we only had a few weeks to get organized and try to find the ten students. As soon as it was introduced we were flooded with people wanting to enroll. When we got up to 25, I started to worry how we would be able to find laptop computers for them and how we would be able to get internet access for them. When we got up to 35 I wanted to say no more but I was told to have faith. If the Lord wants us to do this, he will make it work. By the end of the enrollment period we had 55 students signed up.
The first problem we had to overcome was how to provide internet for that many students. The Stake agreed to have a router installed in the activity room (cultural hall) but the provider told us it would only have enough bandwidth or whatever to accommodate six to ten students at a time. The other issue was how to provide 40 laptop computers to those who don't have them and can't afford them. We were hoping to find help through BYUI or some other LDS foundation but there just wasn't enough time.
Now we can talk about how anything is possible as long as the Lords hand is in the work. Mariella and President Basil know a man in Utah who served his mission here in Vanuatu many years ago and is very close to both of them (he is the one who baptized Mariella). He has wanted to do something to help the people here and finds himself in a position where he was able to donate the needed computers. I feel that this is a testimony of how the Lord raises up certain people to be in the right place at the right time to help move His work forward and I don't know if this wonderful brother will ever really know how many lives he has blessed.
The other miracle is that we have had up to thirty students at a time working in the activity room, some of them on Skype, and we have had no problem with internet connectivity and usage. I feel that as long as they follow the rules and don't abuse this privilege that all will continue to work well.
This is just some of the students working on their assignments
We had a few students who had to withdraw for one reason or another but we now have 44 students who are all doing well. They have to finish the term with a B in the course in order to qualify to continue on toward a degree and so far they are all on track.
This is Mariella setting up some of the new computers and getting them ready to use
Every Thursday night we all get together for a class called a gathering.
our first gathering started our with a get to know you fun exercise
We start with a religion or institute class and then we have divide into groups. Each group is taught by a lead student. As part of the course, each student has a turn as lead student and has the opportunity to teach the class.
We have had two gatherings since the intro gathering where we got to know each other, and I am very impressed with how well they fill the assignment to teach.
We have a Church school in Samoa called Vaiola College. It gives students in the Pacific area the opportunity to finish the last two years of high school. For the past few months we have been helping them with their preparations such as testing, medicals, visas, etc. We have had a lot of fun getting to know them and have become quite close to most of them. Every time they would need something I would tell them they had to pay me with ice cream.
What ended up happening is that we provided the ice cream for the going away party
Just about now is when we had to leave so I still didn't get my ice cream. We were asked to participate in a fireside with Elder Dudfield, an Area Seventy from Australia, and a group from the Public Affairs Department. We had met with them the day before and had an enjoyable visit and learned a lot.
Whenever we have visitors I like to take them on a tour around the island and show them our new home. One of the tourist attractions here on Efate Island is the Blue Lagoon. It is a beautiful lagoon with a couple of Tarzan ropes and deep blue water.
first they had to try the water
Then they had to try the rope. They had so much fun I almost thought about getting my feet wet but I caught myself in time.
That weekend it was time for the students to leave for Samoa. They were very excited but also a little nervous. For most of them it's the first time away from home and they will be gone for almost a year. We are excited for them because of the opportunity they are having to receive a first class education. The students that just graduated from Vaiola and have enrolled in the Pathway program are doing very well and we have high hopes for all of them.
We hope to still be here when they return next December.