Ballarat uni student Tiarney Aiesi knows she could settle for a well paid, rewarding job in Australia but her heart is drawn to a tropical island where she can make a difference, not money.
On trips to visit her mother and family in Lalomanu, on Samoa's Upolu island, the aspiring teacher has been volunteering at the local primary school and on her last visit in January/February she reorganised and updated the school's library.
Tiarney has been visiting Lalomanu, the village where her mother and family grew up, for most of her life.
Currently studying a Bachelor of Arts at Deakin University, Tiarney plans to take on a masters of teaching next year and decided to help out at the Lalomanu Primary School when she was there last year.
"It was a great opportunity to go to the primary school in a village and observe the classes," she said.
Within days she was helping take English classes for year seven and eight students, and working with younger grades in the library.
"While I was there I noticed the school library had books stacked everywhere … so when I came home from November to January I set up a GoFundMe campaign, spoke to Rotary Geelong, and put together about $1000 to take back over with me."
But nine years of donated books that had not been properly sorted, and shelves and furniture being attacked by termites, had taken their toll.
"There had been lots of books donated but a lot were too difficult, because English is their second language, or just not appropriate," she said.
"We cleaned up and repainted shelves, repainted walls, fixed up the windows, but there's still room to improve."
As Tiarney was leaving, a Peace Corps volunteer from the US came to the school to help improve literacy standards and Tiarney is in contact with him most days as he continues the work she started in the library.
"He told me he's opened the library up after school and there are children in there reading books," he said. "It makes me happy to know that."
After returning to Ballarat in early March, Clea's mother got in touch with Tiarney about the changes she made to the library space and how they can work together in terms of funding to continue adding resources to the library.
Over her years visiting the South Pacific island Tiarney has fallen in love with its culture and people, and her mother moved back there after Tiarney finished at Ballarat High School four years ago.
She is hoping to have her mother help her on her next project at Lalomanu, an organic garden to provide fresh produce for a school canteen. She also has plans to build a playground for the children.
"I see it as a place where I could make a difference. I could teach here, get a good job with a steady income, or go over there and work for kids that really need it and support them," she said.
"They are bright, energetic and vibrant but they already know their future won't necessarily involve further education. They have very limited opportunity.
"All my life I've known there are opportunities worldwide, that I can go wherever I want, to explore the world, and that there are things I can achieve, dream and aspire to."
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