On Tuesday evening the 7th of July, ‘Team Kiribati’ departed for the remote village of Abaokoro in the Republic of Kiribati. With an enormous amount of luggage including; tents, computers, curriculum resources, sporting goods and medical supplies safely stowed underneath the plane our amazing journey began. Actually the journey (or the planning for the journey) began about two years ago.
In May 2015 as part of the 125 years celebrations of the Good Sams in the diocese, Bishop Gregory O’Kelly SJ, Catholic Education in the Diocese of Port Pirie and the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict established a partnership agreement enabling staff from our diocesan schools to engage in a ‘two-way’ outreach experience in Kiribati.
During second semester 2015 an invitation was extended for a staff member from each school across the Diocese of Port Pirie to participate in the first of our Social Justice Outreach Experiences to the village of Abaokoro in the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-ee-bas) in July 2016.
Kiribati is situated on the Equator and consists of three main groups of islands thousands of kilometers from each other. South Tarawa, the capital and seat of government, has 50% of the population, about 50,000 people. South Tarawa is about 25 kilometers long and consists of thin strips of land (400-900 meters wide) connected by causeways. It is like a necklace of islands. Villages run one into the other along the main road which is like a spine running the length of the island. Tarawa is an atoll with a big fish-filled lagoon. The village of Abaokoro is an approximate one and a half hour canoe ride across the lagoon to other side of the atoll.
Abaokoro was our destination where the I-Kiribati Sisters of the Good Samaritan provide an Early Learning Centre for the children of Abaokoro. A small government primary school, junior secondary school and a medical clinic are located close to the Good Samaritan Early Learning Centre. The inaugural 2016 outreach program took place over the Term 2 holiday period.
Brenda Keenan, Director of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Port Pirie led the inaugural Kiribati Outreach experience in July. Father Brian Mathews, Parish Priest of Coober Pedy accompanied ‘Team Kiribati’ on their journey to Abaokoro. Father Brian has a well-established relationship with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in Kiribati. He along with a number of parishioners from St Mary of the Angels Parish in Port Lincoln have visited Abaokoro, Kiribati for the purposes of supporting the ongoing ministry of the Good Samaritan Sisters; e.g. installing solar power (panels and batteries) to provide a consistent power source for the Good Samaritan Centre in Abaokoro, providing new window screens for the Good Samaritan residence, designing and constructing a covered walkway between buildings, digging and laying water pipes for a new drainage system. The significant work undertaken (including teaching at the Early Learning Centre and nearby Primary School) and the relationships established has been nothing short of outstanding.
There are many factors that compete for attention in our schools and the daily reality of school life and the energy which it calls forth from staff, some of whom experience the added challenge of working in isolation in smaller schools, is ever increasing.
The vision of this outreach experience is threefold;
Having recently returned from the inaugural ‘Outreach Experience’, it would be true to say that it was an outstanding success and on so many levels. Our Kiribati Commitment Program will continue to evolve over the coming years. There will be future and ongoing opportunities for staff from across our diocesan schools to travel and witness this amazing Pacific country and its people and there will be opportunities for the I-Kiribati Good Samaritan Sisters to visit our diocese and schools. Our partnership is two-ways (both ways), as we continue to cultivate and grow our cross-cultural learnings, friendships and understandings.
Brenda Keenan, Director - Catholic Education, Port Pirie Diocese
After a pleasant three-hour flight from Nadi, Fiji, we arrived at the Bonriki International Airport on Tarawa, Kiribati. Our plane was met by waving and cheering children, despite the heat and humidity. We crossed the steaming tarmac and entered the sweltering hot and crowded Arrivals area, then attempted to understand the ordered chaos of the luggage collection through a hole in the wall. After an hour, with all our luggage in tow, we were greeted with warm smiles and an aromatic flowered garland from the Good Samaritan Sisters.
The journey to our first night’s accommodation at Mary’s Motel, in Bairiki, took an hour by minibus and provided insight to life in this part of Kiribati. Of simple, crowded dwellings and shockingly narrow land mass. We observed mostly traditional housing, with very few western style buildings on this island with phenomenally high population density.
After checking into our accommodation, some of our group chose to explore the local area by foot whilst others chose to relax in air-conditioned comfort and wash away the dust and sweat. That evening, we were treated to an energetic and inspiring cultural display from the Kiribati Youth Dancers group. Their performance was done without instruments: instead using their harmonious voices, their own bodies for percussion and great sense of passion and power to create a truly moving experience. We were again crowned with beautifully woven garlands. Our hosts were truly welcoming and generous with their time, talents and words.
Following an incredible feast and time of fellowship, we were introduced to the Australian High Commissioner Bruce Cowled and his wife Evelyn. Mr Cowled described, in great detail, the contribution and collaboration between the Kiribati and Australian Governments on a range of projects surrounding education, health and infrastructure. Among these, the future of Kiribati pertaining to projects around coastal protection, water management and sanitation, and the improvement of economic prospects through investment in education and training stood out as critical.
Morwenna Stanford - St Barbara’s Parish School, Roxby Downs
Cristina Torres – Samaritan College, Whyalla
Erin McIntee – Samaritan College, Whyalla
After preparing for our journey over many months to an un-familiar destination to a coral attol in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is safe to say everyone boarded the plane in Adelaide with nervous anticipation of what was to come.
Within minutes of landing in the idyllic destination of Kiribati, all anxieties were put to rest. The smiles and greetings from the locals and Sisters alike immediately made everyone feel a sense of welcome. On our first night, we were treated to an amazing welcome by a group of extremely talented young, local dancers. They dressed in traditional clothing and performed dances that ‘welcomed’ us to their homeland. This was a vibrant and stirring ceremony that gave us an insight into strong ties that the young people of Kiribati have with their land and traditions. The next day, we boarded our ski canoe and headed for our final destination, Abaokoro.
After placing all donated goods in the Early Learning Centre’s Maneaba, we were quickly ushered through a canopy of tropical plants to an idyllic white sandy beach. As we lined up on the beach in the hot equatorial sun with the ocean behind us, the Good Samaritan Sisters performed a Welcome to Country. Using oil, sand, and crowns made from jungle vines the Sisters blessed us, ensuring the ancestors gave us welcome and protection to their historic land. This part of the ceremony was concluded with the Kiribati blessing, Te Mauri (Health), Te Raoi (Peace) ao Te Tabomoa (and Prosperity).
To be able to enter the buildings of the early learning centre, we each had to throw our newly acquired crowns on the roof, this was not as easy as it looked and the Sisters assured us that the crown had to remain on the thatched roof for a lucky visit.
It was beautiful to see how Catholics in Kiribati have merged western Catholic traditions with their strong cultural heritage and background.
Josh McKenzie, St Joseph’s School - Port Lincoln
Tom Gilligan, St Mary MacKillop School - Wallaroo
2016 marks the twenty fifth anniversary since the Sisters of the Good Samaritan first arrived in Kiribati. What began as a ministry placement for one sister has grown into something much more.
In 1991 Good Samaritan Sister (SGS), Veronica McCluskie was the first SGS to go to Kiribati (the former Gilbert Islands) at the invitation of the local bishop, Paul Mea MSC. He had written persistently to the then leader of the Good Samaritan Sisters, Helen Lombard, asking for personnel to help with the education and pastoral needs of the people of his diocese.
Over the past 25 years, 19 Australian Good Samaritan Sisters have ministered in Kiribati for varying lengths of time. A number of I-Kiribati women have also joined the Good Samaritan community. Currently there are six I-Kiribati SGS and one Australian SGS in two Good Samaritan communities – Abaokoro (North Tarawa) and Temaiku (South Tarawa). Of the six I-Kiribati sisters, two have taken final vows and four are in various stages of their formation.
The Good Samaritan Early Childhood Centre opened in 2009. The Centre provides pre-school opportunities for children from Abaokoro and neighbouring villages. The sisters also run English classes (reading and speaking) for students from local primary and junior secondary schools.
I-Kiribati Sisters Kakare Biita, Tibwau Matia and Tuata Terawete live in the village of Abaokoro. These three women, each with qualifications in pre-school education, work at the Good Samaritan Centre carrying out their ministry. Sr Kakare says her ministry gives her great joy, “I am enriched by the children I teach.” As Director of the Centre, Kakare works closely with Tibwau and Tuata to provide the children – and by osmosis, their families – with vital educational experiences through social interaction, play and the creative arts. On any one day the children can explore topics such as health, hygiene, nutrition and care for the environment.
In addition to their main ministry at the Good Samaritan Early Childhood Centre, Sisters Kakare, Tuata and Tibwau provide pastoral care to widows, the elderly and people with disabilities living in Abaokoro and nearby villages. They also link up regularly with the Good Samaritan Sisters at Temaiku to visit patients with mental illnesses at the hospital on South Tarawa.
During our time with the Good Samaritan Sisters at Abaokoro, we enjoyed being part of the village life and the daily lives of the Good Samaritan Sisters. A typical day involved taking part in morning prayer led by the Sisters, followed by breakfast. After breakfast, we undertook activities around the centre in our duty groups. This ranged from cleaning the grounds (picking up coconuts, rubbish, pandanus leaves), cleaning the centre (sweeping, cleaning bathrooms and living areas) and preparing for the daily meals.
As the timing of our visit coincided with Independence Day celebrations, we were treated to a wonderfully rich cultural experience during our time. The Independence Day celebrations were a spectacle of marching by the school groups from neighbouring villages, wrestling (both men’s and women’s), volleyball, a market and a Gospel day. We were involved in fishing for mantis prawns, attended the local market and were taught weaving by the local villagers.
We rode through the village on bikes we borrowed from the Good Sam Sisters. All the community gave us a cheery greeting and we often stopped to play volleyball or speak to the children and their families.
We were privileged to visit a Primary School and a Catholic Boarding School. It was humbling to see their lack of educational resources, but know that our donations would be hugely appreciated.
Due to the heat and the high humidity, we often rested in the heat of the day, spending time swimming in the ocean and reflecting in our journals. It was a time we could speak to each other over a game of cards and for networking with each other.
We gave workshops to the students, the Sisters and the local primary school staff. These included making playdough, teaching Indigenous Education, phonics, reading stories and games.
In the evening, a group was allocated the task of preparing the meal for the group. This was followed by presentations to the Sisters each night of our donated resources and time together afterwards in the Maneaba. Here we enjoyed a variety of activities such as dancing, table tennis, hermit crab racing and singing.
We were fortunate to have been able to see and live the reality of Kiribati. We weren’t tourists, we were involved and welcomed into their community.
Bridget Kennelly – St James’ School, Jamestown & Rahni Stephens – St Joseph’s School, Peterborough
Reflections on their mission to Kirabati by Angela Jordan, St Mark’s College, Port Pirie and Karen Cash, St Albert’s School, Loxton
Kiribati is a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and Australia, situated at the intersection of the equator and the International Date Line. The islands are scattered over more than five million square kilometres of ocean.
Located in the equatorial region, Kiribati's climate is tempered by the easterly trade winds, and humidity is high during the November to April rainy season. Occasional gales and cyclones occur on the islands, even though they lie outside the tropical hurricane belt. The average temperature is 27°C year-round. Daily temperatures, however, range between 25°C and 32°C. Near the equator, annual rainfall averages 102 centimeters. The islands also face the possibility of severe droughts. As almost all of the islands are coral atolls, they are built on a submerged volcanic chain and are low-lying. The islands of Kiribati do not support any rivers. The soil is poor and rainfall is variable on the islands, making cultivation of most crops impossible. Coconut palms and pandanus trees, however, grow without difficulty on most of the islands.
Marella Rebgetz is a current Australian Good Samaritan Sister, employed by the government of Kiribati to help address Kiribati’s critical water needs. She is a Nuclear Physicist with a degree in water management. Kiribati is being threatened by rising sea levels and the increasing salination of drinking water.
During our visit we were privileged to meet Sr. Marella and listen to her speak about her work as a water engineer for the Kiribati Environmental Foundation. The purpose of her work involved the 2 main effects of climate change on the island, those being coastal protection and the impact on the supply of fresh water.
Marella explained how a coral atoll such as Tarawa is formed from live coral growing around the sides of a sunken volcano. One to two metres below the surface of the land is fresh water that forms like a lense on top of sea water. This ground water along with rain water captured in tanks are the only source of water on Kiribati. This lense can only hold a certain amount. When it rains the lense fills and the excess flows out into the ocean which is also important for the ecosystem that uses it. Sr Marella’s specific project involves working on a pipeline that will allow water to be drawn from the length of the water lense rather than it being concentrated in one area.
A fascinating insight into the current use of wells was also provided. Current wells (a major water source for I-Kiribati) in place at the moment draw water from a concentrated area of the lense and should only be operated with hand pumps and not electric pumps, unless they are able to measure how much fresh water is sitting on top of the salt water. The reason being, if too much is pumped, the salt water from underneath mixes with the rain water. Once this happens the water source is contaminated and it can take up to 20 years for the fresh water lense to reform.
The Kiribati Adaptation Program (KAP) is now focusing on the country's most vulnerable sectors in the most highly populated areas. Initiatives include improving water supply management in and around Tarawa; coastal management protection measures such as mangrove re-plantation and protection of public infrastructure; strengthening laws to reduce coastal erosion; and population settlement planning to reduce personal risks.
Sr Marella’s work highlights the key role the Good Samaritan Sisters continue to play in Kiribati – raising awareness of our responsibilities to the community of Kiribati and other Pacific communities threatened by climate change.
Reflections on the contributions of many for Port Pirie’s commitment to Kirabati by Brenda Keenan, Director of Catholic Education, Diocese of Port Pirie
The generous support of our Port Pirie diocesan schools was nothing short of remarkable. This generosity and overwhelming commitment was the impetus for our inaugural outreach experience in Abaokoro with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. The Holy Spirit was with us when we ‘checked in’ at the Adelaide airport bound for Kiribati. How we were able to get all of the resources to Melbourne, then Fiji and finally to Kiribati remains a mystery. Everyone returned home with their luggage at least 15kg lighter than when we departed!
Each of our schools provided financial support to participants, covered TRT costs for a couple of days and donated much needed and requested resources for the Early Learning Centre and local schools at Abaokoro. These resources included; tents, buckets, tarpaulins, medical supplies, guitar strings, cash receipt books, printer cartridges, scissors, laminating pouches, bulldog clips, rubber gloves, office supplies, coloured paper, fry pans, freezer bags, plastic seats, totem tennis sets, volley ball nets, bike pumps, soccer balls, frisbees, wooden jigsaws, plastic toys, small dolls, big books, reading books, book marks, dictionaries, posters, educational CDs and software, primary and secondary school curriculum resources, marker pens, world maps, metre rulers and numeracy charts to name a few!
As a system of Catholic schools, CESA generously provided 5 decommissioned laptop computers and a number of digital and video cameras to the Good Samaritan Sisters in Kiribati. About 12 months ago, I approached the I.T. department with a query about the CEO Computer Fleet Refresh Project – my question was a simple one, what was going to happen with the ‘decommissioned’ laptop computers? Many months later 5 of these laptops and other media devices made their way to Abaokoro. We carried these as hand luggage, weighing in at about 9kg per bag. I would like to thank George Petrallas and his team for their support in making available the recycled laptop computers. To those involved in the ‘cleaning and clearing’ of the hard drives my thanks and certainly the thanks of the Good Sam Sisters. Our thanks is also extended to Karen Sloane and her team for ‘loading’ the computers with appropriate software and for the provision of digital and video cameras. These lap tops and digital cameras have already been put to great use.
A part of our morning schedule whilst in Abaokoro was to run computer and media workshops with the Sisters. Their computer skills are quite good and their capacity to learn new skills and techniques is fantastic.
Over the course of our time in Abaokoro we were able to make presentations of educational resources to the SGS Early Learning Centre, the local primary school, the local junior secondary school and to Sister Maata (Principal) of Immaculate Heart School, a Catholic boarding school at the end of the island. All resources were received with great excitement and deep gratitude
Kiribati was an invaluable experience, and a real emotional rollercoaster. It was amazing seeing how happy the children were with the simple things they have, and the enthusiasm shown towards learning. I reflect on this daily and remind myself how lucky I am.
Kristin Fanto - St Joseph’s School, Port Lincoln
An amazing experience! Humbling at the way we were made to feel so welcome. Inspired by the beautiful Sisters whose daily lives showed us what it truly means to see the face of God through another human being. Touched by the excitement and smiles on the faces of the children. I have come away from this experience richer as a person and an educator and look forward to sharing what I have learned with my students and community.
Karen Cash - St Albert’s School, Loxton
I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the people but in particular the Good Samaritan Sisters, they were just so beautiful. Never have I met sisters so young and full of life. Everything about them, the way they welcome, nurture the young and reach out to the marginalised epitomises Catholicism.
Kate Kilpatrick - St Mark’s College, Port Pirie
The Sisters were so welcoming and accommodating. Most of my insights were about how the people of Kiribati live. I was challenged to imagine myself living in a one room thatched hut with my whole family – no walls for protection from the elements. No fresh drinking water straight out of a tap or refrigeration to store food. The feeling among our group was excellent and the Sisters brought joy and laughter to everyone around them.
Bridget Castle - Caritas College, Port Augusta
I loved it! If you said to me before the trip that living with nuns for a week and a half would be an amazingly fun experience I would not have believed you. This ‘Kiribati Commitment’ program must continue. The needs in Kiribati are so great. If we could extend the work the Good Samaritan Sisters do in Kiribati that would be amazing.
Tom Gilligan - St Mary Mackillop School, Wallaroo
I was humbled and inspired by the time spent in Kiribati. This experience cements that Catholic Education in the Port Pirie Diocese is a caring, forward-thinking organisation which cares about the wellbeing of our shared global environment, not just our local area. This can only enrich our teaching and students’ learning about who they are as global citizens and how we all can be God’s hands here on Earth.
Bridget Kennelly - St James’ School, Jamestown
I feel incredibly blessed to have been a part of the Kiribati Commitment. The simplicity of life in Kiribati is nothing like I have ever experienced before, and the joyfulness embedded within i-Kiribati culture was inspirational. The Good Samaritan Sisters are among the kindest, hardworking, humble and cheerful people I have ever met. I have never laughed so much in my life!
Morwenna Stanford - St Barbara’s Parish School, Roxby Downs
The Outreach Experience to Kiribati was truly rewarding. The friendships and bonds that were created within a short amount of time will last a life time. I feel incredibly privileged that I was able to be a part of the inaugural Kiribati Commitment.
Josh McKenzie - St Joseph’s School, Port Lincoln
The welcome we received at the airport from the Sisters was overwhelming. I was not expecting anything like that. The Sisters are a perfect example of what a Good Samaritan should look like. The work that they do not only in the Early Learning Centre but in the whole community is outstanding. They are a noble example for the future generations of Good Samaritan Sisters.
Cristina Torres - Samaritan College, Whyalla
I came home feeling extremely grateful for what we have in Australia and it has changed many of my life views. I have really enjoyed teaching my students about this incredible island and explaining to them that some people are not as lucky as us and do not have the items we use and need daily. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget.
Rahni Stephens - St Joseph’s School, Peterborough
There were many WOW moments – small moments or personal interactions, but sill WOW moments. When first arriving back home, it was hard to put into words, to convey to others how special the experience was. I felt very lucky when I was sharing my photos and stories that I had been part of a once in a lifetime opportunity. I felt emotional leaving Kiribati. I reflected over there on just how simple their life is – a pleasant simpleness and one that is surely not acceptable in the 21st century? The big questions is, “how do we best support the people of Kiribati?”
Angela Jordan - St Mark’s College, Port Pirie
Where do I start? Enriching, eye-opening, heart-warming, confronting and life changing. I gained a greater perspective on the simplicity of education. So much of the time we focus on the new and great when really the process of sharing information and experience can occur in the most humble of settings to the same degree of effect.
Erin McIntee - Samaritan College, Whyalla
Kiribati (pronounced Kir-ee-bahs) is an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, located in the central Pacific Ocean, about 7,800km Northeast of the Diocese of Port Pirie. It is part of the Pacific Islands that is known as Micronesia. Kiribati consists of 33 coral islands divided among three island groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands and the Line Islands.
All of the islands are atolls (ring shaped islands with central lagoons) except for the island of Banaba in the Gilbert Islands which is a raised limestone Island. These low-lying coral atolls are the protruding tips of undersea volcanoes, and extend only a few feet above sea level. Of the 33 islands of Kiribati, 21 are inhabited. Most of the population is concentrated in the Gilbert Isands. The capital of Kiribati is Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands. Bairiki, an islet of Tarawa, serves as an administrative center.
The local economy now depends on subsistence farming, fishing, and the island's prolific stands of coconut palms, and the subsequent sale of copra (coconut meat.)
The isolated location of the Kiribati islands prevents tourism from flourishing, and becoming a major business, even though the weather is consistently warm, offshore reefs teem with colourful fish, and WWII shipwrecks are commonplace, especially off the eastern edge of Kiritimati (Christmas Island). There is still much evidence of war activity on Tarawa.
That island, incidentally, is the world's largest coral atoll, and was once used for the testing of nuclear weapons. It comprises more than half the land mass of Kiribati.
A country at risk
Because of the threat of rising sea levels caused by global warming, many more people are becoming aware of the location and the plight of the people from the Republic of Kiribati.
The sea level is rising and if this rise is greater than the growth of coral, Kiribati will be no more. More than one-third of Kiribati’s 100,000 people live on the main atoll of South Tarawa. High population intensity had led to problems including; overcrowding, fresh water, lack of employment, waste disposal and the like.