Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Isabelle McKenna, Thailand

Isabelle McKenna is a parishioner from St Francis Xavier Cathedral community in Geraldton. Towards the end of 2010 she contacted the Catholic Mission Office to inquire about the possibility of spending her Gap year on an overseas missionary placement. As a result of her inquiries, she now finds herself as a missionary volunteer with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition in Thailand. She recently wrote about her experience:

“…At the moment I'm in Klong Lan, a small district in the North of Thailand. It is very isolated compared to Surin (where I previously was) and my mission is very different. Three nights a week I assist Sr Marritress and Father with teaching cathecism and then every friday I go to the local government school to teach English. I have only been here for a week, so I'm just absorbing the new culture and the new way of life. Most of the people in Klong Lan are very poor and lack many basic neccessities. Many of the parents cannont afford education or basic health care. However the government has been very generous in providing public education and public health. It really is a great benefit to the community. And
it also shows the kindness of others…”

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Joe Mitchell, Ghana

Joe Mitchell is a retired naval engineer from St Vincent's Parish in Kwinana. Through the Catholic Mission office in Perth, Joe is on a misssionary placement for one year with the Diocese of Yendi in Ghana. Joe looks after a computer training centre set up by the diocese as part of its youth development programme in the small rural village of Saboba. Joe writes:

The people are so very beautiful and there is so much one can do to help here in Saboba. I would like to share with you a typical day on mission. I awake at 0430, say my daily prayers and just before five am take a cup of water from the bin we keep our fresh water in and go outside to splash a bit on my face pour a bit on my hair and brush my teeth with the remaining water. I usually boot up my laptop if the battery is charged and check for any instructions from Fr Erasmus for the day. I lay a charcoal fire in a small burner so it will be ready for warming some water after mass. We then go to 0530 mass at the school chapel which is about two miles walk. I am always pleasantly surprised to find twenty or more students up at that hour for daily mass. The mass is said by the school chaplain Fr Michael who has this beautiful perpetual smile on his face. When mass is completed, everyone present lines up in the order we leave the chapel forming a large circle. Each person in turn greets the other with either "Good morning or the local greeting of N'dopu'o to which one responds, "Naah", accompanied with a large smile. I find this very special and filled with love. When morning prayer is finished the water is ready and I usually have a small bowl of porridge and a cup of instant coffee for breakfast which gets me through to the evening meal. We head down to the site of the Computer Lab at about eight o'clock. When we have all the planned equipment we will open the Computer Lab at 0830 and remain there to teach and help those attending with reports, laminating, photocopying and internet research... Supper is prepared by a generous and wonderful local Christian named Justine. When supper is over, I draw a small bucket of water and go to the ablution room and using a very small bucket splash water over me and wash. I try to use as little water as possible so that there is enough left to wash an item or two of my clothes using soap and water which runs off to save on the amount of water which we have to carry from town, a distance of about three miles. If I have any time between evening prayer and off to bed I answer a few more emails and am in bed by nine pm for another night of exercise. That is, tossing and turning in the oppressive heat. I hope you can see our days are filled even without TV or other entertainment. I feel so blessed and assure you I want for nothing that the Lord does not provide.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jenny Vivian, Vietnam & India

Jenny Vivian attends St Thomas More parish in Bateman. She had decided to take a year's sabbattical from her work as a Mathematics teacher at Mercy Catholic Collge in Koondoola, to live and work amongst the poor. She contacted the Catholic Mission Office in Highgate to help with finding her a placement in Vietnam. Here is her story:

I took a year off in 2008 and was very privileged to be able to do some volunteer work in Vietnam and India. I spent 2.5 months with the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Ho Chi Minh City and 3 months with the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charities in Kolkata.

In Vietnam I taught English to the Sisters and the novices. During this time I went with some of the Sisters to visit the poor people in the neighbourhood and people suffering from AIDS. A Vietnamese man who selflessly gave his life to look after AIDS sufferers started one AIDS community that we visited. To see people suffering and dying of AIDS was very confronting for me. I saw a mother sitting on the bedside of her dying son, holding his hands. The condition was very basic and yet I noticed and felt a strong spirit of compassion and peace among the sufferers. The stronger ones looked after the weaker ones. They treated each other with compassion and respect. I also went to visit Long Dhien where the sisters work with people with lepers and the tribal children. We attended the mass at a local church, a very simple small church with thatch roof and people sitting on the ground. It was one of the most beautiful masses I’ve ever attended. The small church was full and the people’s faces reflected their deep faith. I felt a strong sense of connection and oneness with Christ and the people there.

In Kolkata, I had the privilege to help severely handicapped children in Mother Teresa’s Shishu Bavan and in the afternoon I helped at Kalighat (the Home for the Dying). On Sundays I also helped the street children at Nabo Jibon. The Sisters and the Brothers did an amazing work. I noticed their sense of joy (which was contagious) in whatever they were doing. I attended daily mass with the sisters and other volunteers as well as adoration. Serving those who are suffering has helped me to see the suffering Christ. I find the experience extremely rewarding and has helped me tremendously in my personal and spiritual growth.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Marianne Delieu, South Africa

Marianne is from St Joseph's parish, Queens Park and shares her mission experience:

Since I finished my degree in social work 2006, I desired to undertake missionary work with the Church. On December the 11th, 2008, Mum and I left for South Africa and stayed for six weeks over the Christmas period. We stayed in the Limpopo province in the north of South Africa and lived in a rural village called Nzhelele. We lived in an African bungalow next to the convent, the priest’s house and the chapel where they ran the AIDS clinic. The AIDS clinic was closed down over the time, so we spent our time helping Fr Bohas a French missionary priest with administration duties, and being part of the daily rhythm of life which included, daily mass, spending time with the children who would visit us on a regular basis, and driving sister to the places she needed to go.
When I first arrived I was taken away by the utter beauty of the country as we were surrounding by hills and valleys. Over the next couple of days of being there I became overwhelmed by the poverty in the area. One of the major highlights for me was to witness the tireless work undertaken by the Fr Bohas the parish priest and pastoral workers in the area to build up the faithful. Fr Bohas translated the bible to Venda, their language. The Catholic community is very small, but Fr Bohas and the pastoral workers are putting in so much work to catechize the community. One of the pastoral workers lives by himself in a region up the hills and is responsible for pastoring to the community, as resources are so scarce, he walks two hours each way on Sundays to go to Mass.
It was a great witness for me, to see how people humbly work for the Church in very simple conditions.
I had the privilege to get to know some of the people living in the village and had the opportunity to learn their language. I am very thankful for the short time I had over there as it gave me the opportunity to understand the culture and history, and when I go back I’m going to go for at least a year.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Elsa Cornejo, Guatemala

Elsa is a parishioner at Mater Christi Church in Yangebup. She has had extensive experience in mission work as a young person and is currently completing a PhD in Human Rights at Curtin University. Here she writes about her most recent mission experience in Guatemala:

"...I had the opportunity to live and work with the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition in Guatemala for three years. During this time, I worked with under-privileged young people from the poorest areas of Guatemala City. My involvement in the mission of the sisters soon taught me that young people, who are born into situations of extreme poverty, lack of opportunities for education and basic needs, family disintegration, where parents are either alcoholics or drug addicts, and who live in socially aggressive environments are more prone to either join youth gangs or participate in illegal behaviour in order to survive.
The journey with young people, speaking their language, and possessing a prior understanding of the culture allowed me to interact with the community members and provided me with an opportunity to engage with young people in their homes and in the parish. I soon discovered that living in violence and poverty, and denied any opportunity, young people live with little expectation that tomorrow will bring anything good. Their only sense of hope is God and their belief that God is a God of the poor who will liberate them from their suffering. In the midst of this reality, the mission of the sisters is about being a presence of God’s saving love and bearers of the Good News to these young men and women who suffer. It is a search for ways to empower young people and give them back a sense of dignity through education, support, love and understanding.
My involvement in the mission during the time I worked with the sisters, taught me that young people who lack opportunities and struggle to survive, seek for ways out of their difficulties, yet given opportunity, support and understanding are capable of engaging in decision-making processes and improving their well-being. This faith experience, not only inspired me deeply, but also awoke within me the desire to better understand the lives of young people who live in marginal areas and to see life from their perspective..."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Marlena Brabent, The Philippines

Marlena, of St Francis of Assisi Church in east Cannington is a civil engineer who works for a large engineering consultancy in the city. She always had a strong desire to experience overseas missionary work and contacted the Catholic Mission Office in Perth. Because of her heavy work schedule it was arranged for her to spend just 10 days with a community of missionary sisters working amongst the poor in the outskirts of Manila in the Philippines. Here she recounts her brief but powerful experience:

My mission experience in the Philippines in June was an eye opener. I experienced a way of life very different to my own. The city of Manila is full of noise, children, dirt and smiles. The Sisters of St Joseph of Apparition showed me Jesus’ love in every act of kindness they performed. The sisters made me feel at home and showed me their communities.

I visited the St. Emilie Learning Center. This is a nursery & pre-school (year 1 to 3). The children were beautiful and the class rooms were colourful and happy. During my time at the school I learnt about some of the struggles faced by the sisters and the community at large. Many children can not afford schooling. The Philippine government provides free eduction in government schools but children are still absent for many different reasons. Some reasons might be they have transport problems, no money for books or they feel embarrassed because they have no food to eat at lunch time like the other children or they feel better staying at home helping their parents earn money for the family. Some students at St Emilie Learning Center have been sponsored to go to school. The sister work tirelessly to ensure their students get a good education.

I visited Bani, Pangasinan where two sisters stayed and helped the farming/country community. One of the works they do is they bring communion to the sick. I participated in this one morning. Talking about poverty is different from seeing it affect real people. Visiting people in their homes and experiencing their lifestyle truly showed me what family, hardship and poverty can mean. The first family we visited had just lost their relative. A mother of two had died that morning of liver cancer. She was still in her early 40s and left behind a boy in year 9 and a girl in year 4. We shared in their grief and prayed with them. There were other families we visited. Their life is hard. I can’t imagine how I would cope if I had to take care of a sick mother and my four small children. My life in Australia feels so very rich that it seems unfair. But looking at these families showed me that although it is hard, they still smile.

The Philippines is a wonderful country. I was also shown its great beauty in the time I was with the sisters. They took me to One Hundred Island which is literally one hundred islands off the main land which you can take a boat out to and swim at one of the island’s many beaches. The sisters also took me to Baguio, a city in the mountains with amazing views. The hospitality and warmth I was shown in my short stay I will never forget and I thank God for giving me the opportunity to experience all I have.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Joanna Lawson, Vietnam

Attached to the Sacred Heart College Year 11 immersion, Joanna Lawson, 28, went to Saigon for two weeks to teach English to the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions. While she was there, she visited the various projects run by the order:

"One of the nuns, Sr Dominique, had set up a shelter for single mothers and pregnant girls who in Vietnam are treated like lepers. We heard from these girls how sometimes they were forced into prostitution because they were sold by their poor families. Some had boyfriends that dumped them when they got pregnant, and then were disowned by their families. But when they were sure that they were alone in the world, saddled with a stigma and a baby on the way, Sr Dominique took them in and showed them real love. She has saved many babies from abortion, and all the mothers there love their babies. Some are reconciled to their families. Some are battling on but want to make a better life for themselves and their new baby. Whatever it is, Sr Dominique has made this difference in her world. Just one person. Why not me?"

Joanna went to India to discover more about her ancestry and to deepen her awareness of the dynamics of poverty. She travelled for three months and spent much of her time volunteering with several religious ordes, including the Missionary Brothers of Charity.

"I was astounded by the geographic beauty of India, it really was a place that was stunning to behold. I was also taken aback by the amount of wealth held by some people over there, I have never seen mansions like there are in some parts of Mumbai. It's sad that there are people that are so rich but right outside their door are people crying out for food, respect and love, and they just get ignored. "The Indian people are warm and friendly though, especially to travellers."The Brothers and other missionaries are working to be the bridge for that gap. I hope and pray that Jesus strengthens them to carry on their work, and also that the Holy Spirit guides the lay people who have a missionary vocation to see that this kind of work is not only for Religious, and that they come and join in with the consecrated people. I think mission is for everyone, and for some people that means mission in the traditional sense of going out to be with the poor."

Joanna has since been involved in starting her own project for the poor in India.