Tech for Teens of Aitutaki, Cook Islands


Our goal is to fund the equipment for a digital photography class and teach it at the high school on Aitutaki, Cook Islands, in July and August 2022. Our campaign will not only fund next summer, but also provide equipment and training that can be used for classes going forward. Aitutaki is a remote island in the South Pacific. Our fundraising deadline is April, 2022. We are experienced photography and career and technical teachers, Ellen with 28 years and John with 30 years in the secondary classroom. If we surpass our fundraising goal, the money will be donated to the school for ongoing support of the photography lab.

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A wealth that cannot be counted; that’s the impression with which we left the high school on the remote Southern Pacific island of Aitutaki. Helping a student with the vocabulary word, aspiration, we were struck when he said the most important job he could do on the island was to be a father and raise a family. We were thinking he might say athlete, actor or prime minister, as many students in the United States would say. We were humbled by the 15 year-old’s response.


Living in the Pacific Northwest, the land of Amazon and Microsoft, and teaching in a school with the latest technology at our disposal, our volunteer experience in July 2019 at the high school on Aitutaki made us evaluate what is vital to a 21st century education. A school should help students reach their potential, whether it be captaining a fishing boat, going to university in New Zealand or Australia, or working in the tourism industry in the Cook Islands.

In a school where students trim the perimeter bushes, rake the yard, and take out the trash themselves, students on Aitutaki obtain a basic education. In modest, low-tech classrooms furnished with a hodgepodge of 1950s desks, wooden tables and counters with peeling paint, used menus from the Pacific Resort as binders, chalkboards covered in posters, and a small white board on wheels for the day’s lesson, students prepare for their futures. We’d like to include digital photography in that picture as a viable and useful way to introduce technology into their lives.



One thing young people love to learn is photography, and the students of Araura High School on Aitutaki, Cook Islands, are no exception. Yet their access to technology is limited; the only computers we saw in the classrooms were just the laptops the teachers had. In our three weeks on the Island, we only saw two students with cell phones once, and it was not during class time—quite a contrast with young people in the States who are inseparable from their phones. Internet access on the island is limited as is exposure to technology in general.


Currently, they have a modest computer lab with 20 basic computers and a handful of laptops, and their software is limited to a Microsoft bundle. Students in the technology courses learn basic file management, as well as Word, Excel, Access, and Publisher. Only one student, a transfer from New Zealand, is working on Digital Photography as a correspondence course, which is the only way for students to obtain anything beyond the basics.


The young people of Aitutaki deserve the excitement of digital learning in the 21st century, and the opportunities it brings. The island of 2,000 plus residents has only one junior/senior high school, which only goes up to Level 2 (equivalent to sophomore year of high school in the United States). Anyone wishing to pursue Level 3 must take correspondence courses and/or spend a year on Rarotonga. Students have the choice of a handful of electives: Technology, Hospitality, Woodshop, Textiles, and Visual Arts.

Students who stay on Aitutaki as adults will likely work in the tourism and service industry. Learning word processing, spreadsheets, and database management are practical skills for clerical work. Learning digital photography would give them an additional skill set. Taking photos of people as they go on a snorkeling cruise, SCUBA dive, or island hop are all practical job opportunities. As well, Aitutaki is a destination wedding location, so there are opportunities for wedding photography.

Learning digital photography also improves memory and concentration skills, while developing decision-making and critical thinking. With its hands-on approach, photography has the potential to reach all types of learners. Students learn to think positively about themselves and their learning. Their confidence grows by applying themselves to something that is challenging, thereby developing their character. The perseverance learned transfers to success in any field or endeavor.


Job skills aside, students also deserve to see themselves as creative, as having a voice, as having something to say. In most schools across the United States, the arts are the first programs to be cut, but administrators sometimes forget its importance when looking at the bottom line. On Aitutaki, where resources are not abundant, having the chance to learn digital photography would truly enhance their education.

The Plan

During our month on the island, we fell in love with the people and want to do something meaningful for their children. We have the permission of Araura School’s principal to teach a digital photography course July and August 2022 as volunteers, supplying the cameras, computers, software, and peripherals needed to accomplish learning. Now we just need the equipment and to get it and ourselves there!

The photography class will include composition (rule of thirds, angle, line, framing) as well as learning to manipulate the variables (shutter speed, aperture) for effect. Students will also learn professional workflow with Adobe Photoshop to enhance their photos in terms of contrast, color, and sharpness. They will also learn to cut mats for their photos.

We also plan to teach a couple of the teachers at Araura High School so that they can continue to offer the class.


25 SONYA6000 cameras with 16-50MM lens & 55-210mm lens: $22,422.55

25 laptops (U.S. or Issaquah School District surplus sale) $50 each + tax: $1,375

USB thumb drives 25: donated by Jim Bellomo/Jostens: $0

External hard drives 5: donated by Andrew & Jackie Paffrath: $0

Sandisk 32G SD cards 25 @ $16.50, $412 + tax: $452.38

Delkin USB3 SD card readers 25 @ $750                     $187.50 + tax: $205.88

Camera batteries 25 @ $14, $350 + tax: $384.30

GoPro HERO 7 Black 3 @ $400       $1,200 + tax: $1,320

Adobe Photoshop CS6 ( 25 @ $69 +tax: $1,925

Epson PowerLite 1780W Office Projector - Portable HD Projector 1 @ $750 + tax: $825

Tripods 5 @ $119, $595 + tax: $655

Tripod ball head mount 5 included: $0

Mat board (Blick) Crescent 32 x 40” Very White 50 @ $7.45 + tax: $410

Mat board (Blick) Crescent 32 x 40” Smooth Black 50 @ 7.45 + tax: $410

Logan Graphics Elite Mat Cutter for Framing $180 + tax: $198

Logan Graphics replacement blades (100 pk) $22 + tax: $24.20

Lineco Self Adhesive Linen Hinging Tape $10.48 + tax: $11.50

Canon Pixma Pro 10 Printer $600 + tax: $660

Ink Canon PGI-72 10 color pack 5 @ $130, $650 + tax:  $715

Canon Pro Luster 8.5 x 11 Paper $17.49      $87.45 + tax: $96.20

T-shirts 50 @ $10: $500

Power strips 12 outlet 3 @ 28.99 + tax: $96

Type 1 outlet adapters Ceptics 3/pk 9 @ $10 + tax: $100

*Fedex Economy International Freight from Redmond, WA to Aitutaki, CI: $2,500

Estimated GoFundMe transaction fees and 2.9%: $4,724

Total                                                                               $40,000

*We are currently seeking sponsorship from a US carrier (Seattle to LA), Air New Zealand (LA to Rarotonga), and Air Rarotonga (Rarotonga to Aitutaki) to get the equipment to Aitutaki.


Besides raising money to purchase these items, we are also accepting donations of copies of Adobe Photoshop CS6 PC format. If you see something else on the list and you have an item in new condition to donate, please contact us. Laptops must be PC format and meet specifications.
  • Sharon Reese 
    • $100 
    • 25 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 25 mos
  • John McBride 
    • $25 
    • 26 mos
  • kate Sinon 
    • $100 
    • 27 mos
  • John McBride 
    • $50 
    • 28 mos
See all


Ellen Jarvinen 
Duvall, WA
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