Staff Immersion in Kiribati
In the last school holidays I was privileged to travel with the Good Samaritan Sisters and a group a teachers from Good Samaritan Schools as part of the Immersion program to Kiribati, a small set of Islands near the equator.
I was blessed to immerse myself in the culture, to learn about life and the challenges of living in this remote area of the world and how climate change is affecting their lives now. We witnessed the Sister’s at work both on the main land at Tarawa and also across the lagoon at Aboakoro. They worked within the villages and community and the positive impact this has on lives without intruding on the culture and doing this with great respect was amazing. They were providing opportunities for education to pre-schoolers and primary school children but also to teenagers and adults through their contact with the larger community. We were privileged to be invited into these spaces and witness the work being done and also teach these incredibly motivated and excited students who valued education so much. We also learned so much from them as they shared about their culture, challenges and needs.
The trip was full of contrast, (at times it was challenging both physically and mentally), such beauty – the colour of the water was amazing yet you couldn’t swim in most of it due to the high levels of pollution. The roads, buildings, schools and villages were extremely poor and the resources were so limited and lacking (1 pen between 3 students). The rubbish was evident everywhere and the sanitation and water were a problem but through all of this the beauty of the people, culture, island and children and the inspiring people that worked alongside the communities was humbling. The passion and dedication for the work they were doing made you want to do and be better yourself. We meet 80 and 90 year old Sisters who had lived and worked in Kiribati since the 1950’s and have chosen to stay and continue their work today. Sister Margaret, an archivist, who collects and records the history of the Sister’s but also the history of Kiribati, especially around the events of WWII when they were invaded by the Japanese, is a wonder, so full of life and knowledge you could sit with her for days and listen to her stories.
We saw Aid being given through many projects and a Western influence although well – meaning was not always positive eg the introduction of plastics, disposable nappies and packaged foods which have no way to be disposed of so litter the landscape, but the overwhelming warmth, hospitality and pride that engulfed the people as you passed them and they greeted you with the biggest smile and the word “Mauri “– Hello, welcome, made you feel blessed to be part of this community even for a short time.
We immersed ourselves in culture and tradition, we were blessed and welcomed to country every where we went. We watched dancing and singing that gave you goose bumps, we husked coconuts, wove mats, learnt about foods and cooking, watched children climb coconut trees to collect the fruit, watched as men and women went about their daily tasks, and I never saw anyone upset, angry or a child crying or complaining.
I realised through all of this how important everyone is, no one better than another – just different. We all have skills and talents and gifts that can be used to make other’s lives better and we can all make a difference. I also learnt it is not about what we can do for other’s all of the time in such places but what can we learn from them. The Kiribati people had so little but were happy, proud, hospitable and grateful people that were so community minded and I feel blessed and so thankful of everyone that made my journey possible. I encourage you to take your own journey wherever that may be.
Nicole Boyde, Stella Maris College