Staff Immersion 2018 – Kiribati Reflections

Dec 17, 2018

Immersions seek to deepen an awareness and appreciation of the Good Samaritan Benedictine tradition and engage participants in experiences which invite a response from their heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). 

Below are three reflections from participants in this year’s Staff Immersion which took place in Kiribati.

Judell Johnson – Mt St Benedict College

It was the first weekend of the September school holidays when ten teachers and two members of Good Samaritan Education departed Sydney for a week in Kiribati. A week, 7 days, yet the time we were immersed in the culture and environment of Kiribati moved each of us in an immense way.

Welcome

Each day we visited a different part of the community and at every turn were welcomed by the i-Kiribati, who take great delight in meeting and spending time with people. There is a pure joy that is evident in their interactions with one another and with those they welcome, with big smiles and their complete presence. Laughter, song and dance were shared and relished by both visitors and locals, duly recorded by both on mobile phones to be replayed and relived at a later time.

It is this community spirit which brings a smile to my face each time I reflect on our week in Kiribati. A sense of connection, a sense of welcome and then belonging to a people and a place. Like the good Samaritans, the i-Kiribati make a welcome space for everyone, often sitting on the floor, cross-legged under their maneaba, where all can see one another’s faces, and expressions as they share a joke, a song and to dance, they absolutely love a celebration.

It was a pleasure to spend a week with wonderful like-minded Australians, engaging with the Good Samaritan sisters and pre-novices in Kiribati, and gaining an appreciation for the work they do.

Belinda tutoring students in Kiribati

Belinda Clark – Rosebank College

It was with great trepidation and wide eyes that I boarded the flight to Kiribati. We had all completed research on Kiribati but nothing could match the experience, the adventure or the strength of friendship that developed in such a short time.

Kiribati is a country like no other. Consisting of 33 coral atolls the view and expanse from the plane were stunning. On disembarking from the plane we were met with a sheet of heat, thrusting into our lungs, giving us the first taste of Kiribati. As we neared the arrivals area, one open room divided into three sections, we were greeted with warm smiles. The customs officer perched behind the arrival’s desk, sitting on a two-draw metal filing cabinet, stamped my passport and proclaimed ‘Mauri’, a warm welcome, literally! This welcome was the first of many and we truly felt at home in this foreign place.

Each school we visited was filled with students eager to learn, teachers making the most of their sparse resources, open hearts and warm smiles. I will never forget the feeling of being welcomed by the students at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Their voices singing and harmonising together with such beauty, it was a breathtaking and moving experience. We were privileged to witness many performances at various schools proving that connection can be created by music, song and dance no matter where you come from.

Luxury Travel Kiribati Style

Although Kiribati is facing many challenges including rising sea levels, poor waste management and a mismatched and somewhat challenging school curriculum, the people and the country are resilient and live with an indomitable spirit. Whilst the physical classroom environments differ greatly between Kiribati and Australia the issues that teenagers face are common.

It was such a great honour meeting the Sisters, Novices and Inquirers during our stay; a group of women whose generous hearts, strong resolve and compassion exude in all endeavours. A true representation of love in action.

I am now called to respond to the experience of Kiribati and I am changed for the better because of the all of the people I met and the connections I made. Very humble, grateful and inspired.

 

Gabrielle Sinclair – Good Samaritan Education

My family have had a connect to Kiribati since the 70’s, so I thought I had a fair idea of what to expect, but nothing really could have prepared me for the beauty and tragedy of this humble nation.

Some of the photos I took could appear on a travel brochure however a turn of the head or a slightly different angle tells another story. Landing on South Tarawa we soon discovered what the stories of dense population, building pollution and accessibility really means for those living on this crowded corner of this island nation.

South Tarawa is the centre of commerce and education. Jobs are few, wages are low and education is devastatingly under-resourced but the people are canny, proud and contagiously happy. On South, you can’t help but be confronted by the rubbish, car bodies and plastic. With little to no rubbish removal from the islands, what comes to Kiribati stays on Kiribati and if it doesn’t biodegrade it stays for a long time.

Disembarking the canoe after crossing the Lagoon to North Tarawa

It was crossing the lagoon and staying with the Good Samaritan Sisters on North Tarawa, that Kiribati began to made sense to me. In village life, the land provides both food and shelter for all. The locals weave and build using all that nature provides, community living is in synthesis with the land and sea. Some modern facilities like water tanks for rainwater storage and the occasional solar panel are also used.

Spending time with the Sisters was the top of many highlights from our Immersion, seeing them carry out their ministry with such grace and humour was a joy to behold. The singing voices of the i-Kiribati students will remain with me for a long time, their talent and hospitality was humbling.

Home now, I am more acutely aware of my personal footprint on the planet, as well as its impact on my “neighbour”. My i-Kiribati neighbours are no longer “the other” they are known, they are Christ. Now I can’t help be more vigilant to reduce, reuse and recycle and do all I can in my circles of influence.