Staff Immersion to Kiribati
Invariably, I turn to my trusty pal ‘Google’ when preparing for the 2012 Staff Immersion to Kiribati…and to be honest, the statistics gave a bleak outlook for the country and its people.
Kiribati is one of the world’s poorest countries. It is one of the most vulnerable places in the world when it comes to the impact of climate change. Kiribati has the highest infant mortality rate in the Pacificand there is data to indicate 75% of women in the country will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. I have to admit, I was doubtful of how I would respond to an immersion in a country with so many issues. I wondered if I would be overwhelmed by their complexity or defeated by the enormity of challenges that face the tiny atolls way out in the Pacific.
I have to say, I experienced the emotion of being overwhelmed, but not as predicted. I was overwhelmed by the hopefulness of the people of Kiribati and those who are tackling the challenges it faces for the future. Our immersion involved meeting people of great joy, warmth and wonderful hospitality, In true Benedictine style, we were welcomed by enormously generous people who offered insight into the realities of living in Kiribati. We witnessed the work of Good Samaritans from a number of religious orders and the positive change they are making to assist and empower people living in Kiribati.
Happily, we were consistently challenged by the immersion experience. Each evening conversations resulted in more questions than answers; ‘How can a seemingly beautiful environment be so damaged and polluted?’ ‘How can students in Kiribati be educated in a way that values their culture, but allows them to flourish in a world outside their own?’ ‘What does the future hold?’ ‘How much is enough?’. The complexity of Kiribati meant that for each school we visited and for each person we spoke to, the group came away with more questions and more uncertainty about how to approach the current situation in this country. Wonderfully, we realized that the immersion wasn’t about finding the solutions but seeing enough of Kiribati to ask the questions.
Undoubtedly, we were transformed by the experience and the challenge we are now presented with is to allow this immersion to inform the way we live back here in Australia. It was a unique and enriching experience, buoyed by the connectedness of the group that shared the immersion. I am incredibly thankful to those whom I was able to share this with and the Mission Team for providing such an authentic opportunity to see the work of Good Samaritan Sisters in community.
Santa Maria College, Northcote VIC
 Australian Volunteers International
 World Health Organisation
 2010 Human Rights Report http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/eap/154387.htm