The 2019 Philippines immersion was once again a memorable experience for Year 11 students from Newman College and St Joseph’s School, Northam. Students departed Perth full of hope and eager to engage in service. They were greeted by the humidity and confronted by great wealth juxtaposed with immense poverty. Our immersion began with the Eucharist during which we were introduced to the deep commitment the local Filipino people have to the Catholic faith.
We journeyed to Olongopo City to work with the Preda Centre and met Fr Shay Cullin who shared with us the challenging, yet important work, the Preda Centre is doing to protect the rights of the child. We heard countless stories of human trafficking and abuse and learnt how the important work of Preda seeks to bring justice and restore the dignity of every child. Our Pilgrims spent time in with the indigenous Aeta community, learning about their farming methods and sharing in their way of life. The Preda Centre supports over 80 Aeta communities to help educate and bring an end to trafficking and abuse. Following our stay in Olongopo, the group travelled to Iriga, on the island of Naga, to visit the Fatima Centre. This organisation provides support for children who are parentless or whose parents can’t afford to meet their needs. The founder of this centre, Sr Felicitas, shared with the group her important life lessons. Most memorable being the idea that we only know love if it is shared with us. We spent time in the classroom and a Friendship Assembly was organised where the local students shared cultural dances and their talents with us.
Following our return to Manila, the pilgrims visited the Kuya Centre for Street Children. This organisation works with young boys who live on the streets and assists with finding long term accommodation and education. Sr Kate shared with the pilgrims the challenges they have with some of the boys and families, most of whom are suffering from extreme poverty, substance abuse, domestic violence and a variety of other issues. We were taken to a street community by a Kuya social work, Jorge. He shared with the group some of the programs he facilitates to support the communities and young children.
The immersion was a time of growth for staff and students. It challenged the group to develop a better understanding of our privilege and to be grateful for the things we have. All groups we met welcomed us with the same ‘Family Spirit’ we espouse as Marists and did so with a joy and gratitude that astounded the students given their context. Our students will return home, wanting to share their experience, ready to be a voice for those who are voiceless in our society and to share the stories of the people they encountered. A special thanks to all involved in organising such an important event for the College, especially Vanessa Strohmeier who arranged all things and was a support for the group throughout.