Most of us who travel overseas on our annual leave use that time to indulge in new culinary experiences and sightseeing.
But Rebecca Ryan, Westpac’s Balclutha Bank Manager, makes sure part of her foreign travel is spent volunteering at underprivileged primary schools.
For the past six years, Rebecca has been traveling to places such as Thailand, Fiji, Rarotonga and Samoa during her annual leave and directly contacting schools to organise a volunteering day.
“I choose where to go on holiday and then I Google primary schools in the area or ask the hotel I’m staying in to help find a school in need,” she says.
Rebecca, who just returned from volunteering in Samoa, then contacts the school directly and offers to spend a day with the kids, either teaching English, mathematics or outdoor sports.
“This year in Samoa, when I arrived, the hotel took me to Safaatoa School in Safaatoa.
“The principal was so overwhelmed that she cried, it was humbling. I've never had that before.
“This school was far from the resort areas and doesn’t get much in terms of stationery or other school necessities.
“So, I brought them a box of stationery from New Zealand. My suitcase was 23kgs when I arrived (full of stationery) and 5kgs when I flew home.
“The kids sang the New Zealand national anthem for me when I arrived and other Samoan songs and even performed a haka.
“We played tag in 35-degree heat and I taught them some other outdoor games,” she said.
The Dunedin-born bank manager, who has worked for Westpac for eight years, focuses on primary schools.
“As New Zealanders, we take for granted that you can pick up a pen at school, but these schools aren’t as privileged, so this is how I like to give back.
“It is emotionally tough though. You sometimes feel that you haven’t done enough.
“But seeing the kids’ happy faces makes you realise that you have made a difference,” Rebecca says.
Once she returns home, Rebecca keeps in touch with some of the principals and often sends more stationery packages to the schools at Christmas time.
The next country on Rebecca’s list is Mexico and she’ll be looking for an underprivileged school to contact there next year.