All is not lost

I was nervous. I liken it to be on the starting blocks of a race anticipating the starting gun. Ready! Set … Oh no! Go didn’t quite happen.

The Saturday before last was the first day of an online program we has been preparing for the Badjao Community at the Hope Centre in Surigao. We’d already had one false start a month ago when there was a COVID case in the community and everything was out on hold until we knew it hadn’t spread. We’d had monthly meetings to determine what it might be best to cover. I had prepared a session using some guidelines from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations). Sr Cathy had visited the community earlier in the week and there was going to be at least twenty people (mostly women) coming. The community leaders had encouraged members to attend. They were there in the Centre, I was here. Technology let us down.

Sr Cathy and Betty had arrived early so that we could have a practice run making sure that I could be heard and seen (if that was necessary). For three hours we tried. For fleeting moments I could hear, sometimes it sounded as though people were trying to talk underwater, at others it was crystal clear. I got one glimpse after everyone had arrived and they were all seated, socially distanced wearing masks ready and waiting. That was as far as we got.

In the end it was decided that I would record the session and send it through. I was really disappointed.

Not to be defeated by thwarted plans, we both ploughed ahead in different ways. Sr Betty and Cathy ended up taking a sewing class for those who were present and wanted to learn and I recorded what I was going to present and sent it through. This way what I had to say can be translated, as it needs to go through two translations, and the content is not lost. It will be shared in the coming weeks and I will prepare another prerecorded session before we all reconvene for another live session early June. Internet connections will be checked and we may try a different time to day to see if that makes a difference. The signal can be a bit finicky, but we pray Take Three will be smoother sailing.

Sr Cathy did take some photos of the day and I share one with you now. Socially distant, wearing masks, excitedly waiting in anticipation for our session.

So now from here as I plan session two, I ask for your thoughts and prayers that this much needed ministry continues.

Looking Forward, Looking Back

The New Year has arrived and it is always a good time to review what has happened, the plans for the future and opportunities that are on the horizon. 

Obviously with things as they are in the world, travel to the Philippines this year was not an option.  Despite this, work has continued for Share, Teach & Reach.  It has been a little more challenging but that is just the way life is sometimes.

When I realised that intended travel was not going to happen, I knew that I had to come up with another plan.  Like the rest of the world, online meetings and planning became the norm.  I met regularly, usually once a month with a core group in the Philippines who are leading, supporting and seeing the day-to-day running of the project.

Zoom planning and progress meeting from around the Philippines and in Australia

It was discovered early on that in order to run an online program of any sort, you need a computer.  Hmm… well we didn’t have one so it was time to get busy fundraising and then purchasing.

So in the chill of a Toowoomba June, to kick start this all off I launched Stroll, Trot and Ride.  I pledeged to ride the distance of a marathon, walked a half marathon and ran a quarter of a marathon.  It got me out and about during one of the coldest months of the year, the blood pumping and on some days it was the warmest I had been!  I remember coming back from one ride not being able to feel my fingers or my face but inside I was warm!  I am pleased to say I raised $2379 and surpassed my goal, thanks to the kind and generous support from friends and family all around the world!  This money went towards a laptop and printer.

Of course, purchasing these proved to be a bit more of a challenge than first expected because when the world goes online computers are a hot commodity.  There was a shortage in the Philippines.  I’m pleased to say that as of early December a computer was purchased (the printer is still on backorder) and I have had one brief connection with the community from the Centre.  It was filled with lots of people all talking at once mostly wishing me and each other a Merry Christmas.  It did make me smile and make my heart sing!  I look forward to many more sessions like this one in 2021!

The plans for the future are of course now to actually utlise this technology and begin with some online nutrition lessons.  A small garden was begun throughout the year in the centre, so we hope to be able to learn more about what we might plant, why and how these fresh foods can go along way to make our families healthy.  It looks likely that these sessions will begin small with a set period of time, like six weeks and then we’ll assess how they are going and take the next step.

Other teaching and learning will be dependent on what is needed and helpful to the community.  Of course we will be guided by the events in the area, possible restrictions and whether or not people can physically gather.  We can have plans waiting in the wings but as we have learnt this year, we’ll have to wait and see what happens!

As the New Year begins I am thankful for all those who have supported the project so far in the many ways you have, finanically, prayfully, resourcefully, thoughtfully and emotionally.  Thank you seems inadequate however that is all I have.  So thank you. 

Thank you also to the Sisters and volunteers in the Philippines, your support is incredible.

May 2021 be a blessing for us all and may Share, Teach and Reach continue to unfold as we share stories, teach each other and reach out to those near and far.

Riding Aimlessly

Turning the corner the cold wind slapped me smack in the face. I pushed my feet forward harder, glued my hands to the handlebars and bent my head forwards. What was I thinking choosing to ride 42.5km in winter?

When I set out on a walk or a ride, actually when I set out on anything in life I usually have a goal in mind. A path, a plan or an end result. Even when I go for a walk. Yesterday was a little different. I had a vague idea but the longer I rode the more aimless I became. The thing I had in my mind was distance, I didn’t mind where I went I just wanted to ride for a considerable distance.

This got me thinking, I live a privileged life. I have a secure roof over my head, blankets to throw over me when I’m cold, a bed, more food than is necessary, a car to drive, I’m educated, I have work, I’m not discriminated against because of the colour of my skin or my faith and this is just the short list! These are all things that I can very easily take for granted. I can plan how I’d like to do things, set myself up for the future, point in that direction and most times it turns out somewhat as I planned. Deviations happen for sure but the things I mentioned above don’t prevent things from happening. In other words life is not aimless.

The community for which I am riding, walking and for right now, don’t have this luxury. They might have some of these things today but not tomorrow or they might not have any to begin with. It doesn’t mean that they are like me on my ride yesterday – aimless. They have hopes and dreams for themselves and their families. They have a goal in mind however their life circumstances don’t always mean that they will achieve it.

So in my own way, this movement marathon is me speaking out for the injustices they face. It’s me being able to do something practical to help. It’s about me sharing my blessings and doing something in a world where we don’t always know what to do.

Yes it’s cold, yes parts of it are physically challenging but that’s why I’m doing it. I’m getting out of my comfort zone, raising awareness and raising much needed funds to help set some programs up so that the community may also have some of the things that I am blessed with.

You may not be able to help me out and I appreciate that but perhaps you can step out of your comfort zone to and speak out against the injustices that others face. If we all do, we learn, we grow and change can happen.

So now from here at the almost beginning of today’s ride, it’s thanks.

Cxo

If you would like to help, please visit: https://www.dogoodtogether.org/stroll-trot-ride-movement-marathon-1816-str/

On your marks, get set…

Go!

Well, almost, but not quite! I’ll burst out of the blocks on Monday 1st June.

For the first three weeks of June I decided to challenge myself physically and at the same time raise some funds for Share, Teach & Reach. I’ve decided to Stroll, Trot & Ride.

Each week the physical challenge will look slightly different. The first week (beginning on Monday) I will ride the distance of a marathon (42.2km), the second week I will stroll (walk), the distance of a half marathon (21.1km) and the third week I will trot (run – probably very slowly!) a quarter of a marathon (10.6km).

Funds raised will go specifically towards establishing a community garden at the new Community Centre and set up costs for online training costs for ongoing learning and professional development. Obviously travel to the Philippines will be a way off for me, but the needs of the community haven’t changed. If COVID-19 has taught us anything it is that much of what can be done face-to-face can also be done online.

I have spoken to the Sisters and some of the potential participants have been asking when I’m coming back as they are keen for their learning to continue. Whilst I can’t be there in person I can offer an alternative so here I am trying to set wheels in motion.

If you would like to support this fundraiser financially please visit: https://www.dogoodtogether.org/stroll-trot-ride-movement-marathon-1816-str/

(Thank you to those generous donors who already have! I truly appreciate it!)

If you would like to follow the journey please visit: https://www.facebook.com/shareteachreach/

I would also appreciate your prayerful support or words of encouragement on the cold, wintery days ahead when movement will be challenging.

Or if you would like to join me for some of the movement drop me a line and we can make arrangements.

I look forward to sharing some future posts on here with progress of the journey.

So now from here, it’s time to put on my shoes and keep the preparations happening!

A Way Forward

Life and time waits for no one. We all know the world looks different now and the challenge is for us to look at the world differently too. I’ve had grand plans, I’ve schemed and I’ve dreamed of how Share Teach and Reach was going to work. That’s not to say I can’t, I won’t and I shouldn’t when perhaps I have the capacity to do so, but it all looks different now. I think I need to replan, rescheme and redream!

My focus in the Philippines over the past couple of years has been working on professional development in an educational capacity to establish a community education centre. As a qualified teacher who often is asked in communities, like the one in Surigao, what can be done and how can we teach and learn, I cannot sit on my hands. I had plans to be in the Philippines about now or at least in the next month, but that isn’t going to happen. And it probably isn’t going to happen this year. So it’s time to rethink and reimagine.

Zoom now looks like it will become a delivery platform for professional development for those in the community who want to learn and for me (and anyone who wants to join me on this journey) to share, teach and reach. As the vision statement says we want to provide opportunities for teachers and educators to come together to share their teaching experiences, to learn from one another and to explore effective and efficient ways of presenting materials to the communities they live in.

It will take planning and it may take a little while to get up and running. In some ways, some of the restrictions will need to be lifted in Surigao so that people can gather in one place, because I’m really not sure who has the capacity to participate from their homes. With the community centre now built and established, it seems like the perfect venue. Broadband will need to be connected, perhaps a laptop and a data project needs to be purchased and we can begin.

I’m excited by the prospects for the future. I’ve chatted with some of the sisters about some of the logistics and I’m dreaming of how I can deliver, who might join me and oh the places we can go! I’m not just thinking of the capacity we have to share classroom lessons and journeys with children but other skills with adults like establishing a community garden project. Clearly food is a necessity and this time has heightened the need for food security in communities such as this. They have been more reliant than ever on others and I wonder do they need to be? Could skills shared bring greater community capacity and wellbeing?

This step in a different direction in many ways is a more cost-effective way of delivery of the project. It is exciting because is also offers greater flexibility, perhaps it opens the doors to more people from both sides of the ocean and perhaps it brings the world a little closer together.

I share all this, for the same reasons I always do. We are story people. We connect with each other through story, yours, mine and ours. By me sharing this story, you might like to walk alongside me for a while or you could share it with others who might also walk a while. When we share what we have we all become a little closer and I believe that we can amplify the voice of those whose story has been hidden, forgotten or not yet shared.

If you would like to walk with me, there are a number of ways. I’m sure I could use:

  • Teachers, gardeners, IT support
  • Ideas people, to dream and scheme with
  • Someone to bounce ideas off
  • Those willing to share the unknown
  • Financial assistance – this too can come in different ways
    • Direct donations for Share, Teach & Reach https://www.wra.org.au/1816surigao
    • Swapping your bottles and cans for cash and sending the donation through the WRA account ID is C10041435 (Just mention it to me so that it can be credited to the project)
    • Attending any of my online yoga classes (For the rest of May and for the month of June all class fees will go towards the project)
    • Or supporting Stroll, Trot & Ride (STR) Movement Marathon during June. Click here for details: https://www.dogoodtogether.org/stroll-trot-ride-movement-marathon-1816-str/
  • Prayers

I can be contacted via catherinemcaleer05@gmail.com or through the Share, Teach & Reach Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/shareteachreach/ if you would like to and are able to help.

So now from here, it’s thank you for the way/s in which you already support me. I am filled with gratitude.

C

Not Forgotten

The hustle and bustle of Manila seems world’s away right now, yet only twelve months ago I witnessed it. Full flights, crowded streets, horns honking, jeepneys bellowing exhaust, overcrowded buses and stations, tricycles clad with weekly market purchases and families, street vendors selling their wares, young children begging on the streets, people of all ages finding all sorts of place to pause and catch a few hours of rest – the rattle and the hum is perhaps not silent but it is definitely quieter, I’ve been told.

Countless times over the past eight weeks or so, I’ve wondered where are all these people now? What are their lives like? How are they surviving, not only are we in the midst of a pandemic, but many of these people live hand to mouth existence on a good day. If they work today, they eat today. If there is no work, there is no food. What do the streets look like? What does the future look like? Is the air cleaner? Thousands of questions flood my mind and spur me on.

I had the opportunity to ‘catch up’ with Srs Sally, Betty and Cathy this past week to see how things are going. My heart soared when I learnt that those who are most vulnerable have been looked out for. That’s not to say I didn’t expect it, I just wasn’t sure how the enormity of it all could be tackled. Communities in the Philippines, just like communities all around the world have banded together to help each other out. Donations of food have come in at times when they have been needed the most. Communities have packed packages to be shared and dropped off in different communities. People are not being forgotten. Sr Betty shared some photos of some recent such activities in Surigao where the project I am helping with Share, Teach and Reach is operational. With her permission I share them with you. They are a collection of photos from three different occasions, from the past two months, where different people and parishes have assisted this community.

I have more to share but I think for today, this is enough.

So now from here, with a heart full I pray that all are safe and well.

C xo

Hope Centre

Wet days preceded 18th December and it was not clear if the blessing and opening of the Hope Centre would actually happen. Around the clock work continued to ensure the centre was ready for those that would gather to celebrate and thank God for its beginnings.

Prayers were answered and it was blessed and opened.

A number of years ago now, a gutsy sister by the name of Betty visited a marginalised and impoverished community over the water’s edge of Surigao City.  Having a true heart for mission and helping and inspiring all those she meets, Sr Betty right then knew she would return to this community again and again helping in whatever way she could.

Initially it was to provide some natural skin remedies for sores that had become a way of life for people with poor water quality and hygiene practices and to offer some simple health ideas. I accompanied Sr Betty on one of her early trips where the children in the area were weighed and their level of nourishment (or malnourishment) was determined. It is a day that will remain firmly etched in my mind for so many reasons and you can read about it here.

Following this visit, regular tuition and nutrition sessions followed with various members of the congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, their Lay Associates and other community members all answering the call to help out in whatever way they could.

Fast forward to 18th December and just up the hill about a 5 – 10 minute walk from the homes of the Badjao community the Hope Centre opened to offer a safe and secure place of learning. A community centre where they can come and learn a new skill and share life.

Share, Teach and Reach a co-shared project with the Sisters and WRA (World Relief Australia) will assist to furnish, resource and provide new educational opportunities for the community.

We are all excited about what this means.

Here are some photos of the Centre Opening and the Christmas Party that followed.

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Thank you for your support. It means the world to me. May it always be a place of hope, love and learning.

Mary Jena

A softly spoken, intelligent young woman who has experienced more than many at the age of nineteen is how I would describe Mary Jena. She is not only a sister, daughter and student in the Badjao community. She truly is a role model for all those she meets.

I met Mary Jena in May in Surigao, where she just like Misdari spent three days learning during her summer break. In fact, she actually took three days off work, which is hard to come by, to come and engage with possible ways to engage the young children in her community. When asked what she hoped to learn, she replied saying she would like to learn how to teach her younger brother how to read. I’m not sure I was able to deliver that in the three days we had, but she is one step closer.

As I watched Mary Jena on those three days, I noticed she quietly took in all that was presented, asked questions when she was unsure, sat back during meal time and took only small amounts of food. When we went to her community, I noticed the role she played in her family. Her younger siblings looked up to her, she took care of those around her and her parents relied on her for a number of the family chores and responsibilities. She did so with grace and a willingness to support her family. She also laughed and played the games she was presented with on the training days, revealing the child that lies in all of us.

It was truly an honour to work with this young woman. I have much to learn from her and her community. I thank God that our paths have crossed and I hope and pray that together we can move towards a future filled with hope for her, her family and her community.

You can support Mary Jena, her family and community through the project Share Teach and Reach by:

Thank you for your support. It is truly appreciated xo

Misdari

I’d like to share with you a little more about this young man who lives in the Philippines.

He’s fifteen and unlike many young boys in his community he goes to school. In Australia you can leave school at fifteen, in the Philippines, many leave long before. Perhaps they do it out of choice perhaps it is necessity. In the community where Misdari lives, I believe many do out of necessity. Imagine not having enough food to eat so you feel compelled to work with you family, beg on the streets or settle into a life of complacency, not aspiring for more because life has not shown you anything but heartache, poverty and injustice. I am constantly shocked by this, even though I see it regularly.

I shared a little of Misdari’s story in the post entitled I Wonder Why. You can read it here. At the age of fifteen he is the man of the house resulting from his father’s death in local conflict. His mother like many mothers, dream and wish for a life better than her own for her children. So she has made many a sacrifice to ensure this happens. No doubt there have been days when she has given food that she really needed (and wanted) to her children, in order for them to have the best chance at life.

Despite begin so young, Misdari has a wise head. What touches me is his generosity towards his community. He wants more for them than he has and he’s willing to put up his hand and help. He attended some training with me back in May where he shared stories from his life, participated in a range of activities in a language outside his own (actually English is his third language) and then put what he had learnt into action at an impromptu community gathering. He offered insight into the community, shared his own struggles and met the challenge of peers questioning his ability and authority head on. He did so with a sense of humour, insight and an open mind.

Since coming home I’ve learnt that he continues to help out when the can, his study comes first and so it should.

I think this is pretty amazing and that stories like this should be celebrated.

Perhaps you would like to learn more about Misdari’s community and how you can help. You can do so, by reading the previous posts in this blog, sharing the stories, praying for the community or perhaps you are in a position to help financially. This can be done through the Share Teach and Reach Project I am coordinating through WRA. donations can be one off or ongoing. Details are found here: https://www.wra.org.au/1816surigao

Thank you for your love, prayers and support for this project, the work I have done there and for me. All are greatly appreciated.

C xo

Blessings

As a teacher in Australia I’ve been blessed with many things. Firstly the education I received both at school and at university. Then there’s the resources all the schools I have and do work in. There’s the pay I receive for the work I do. Many would say not enough given what teachers give but for me it’s enough. In fact it’s more than enough and more than many.

In 2010, when I first visited the Philippines I realised straight away that I was richly blessed. I had all of these things I mentioned above and more. I grizzled about things for sure. I would be lying if I said I didn’t and still don’t. However I’ve learnt a lot and see things through a different lens now. I’ve had my eyes opened to many of life’s injustices and I can’t sit by and watch like a spectator at the footy. I need to participate, not as a fan on the sidelines but as a player on the field. It’s not easy in any position on the field or in the stadium, but I choose to be in the thick of it.

I regularly recall a quote from William Wilberforce that quite literally has changed my life.

You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.

William Wilberforce

At times this is the most frustrating thing I’ve ever read because I can’t forget it. When life gets too comfortable it pops into my head. As Kay Warren says, I’m gloriously ruined. I can’t look the other way, I badger on to anyone who will listen, my jobs all revolve around this concept and I’ll share the story of the people I’ve met in the Philippines any chance I get. I will share uncomfortable stories and I’m not afraid to do so.

It is this that has led me to work with the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the Philippines. One fearless sister, Betty also shared an uncomfortable story with me in 2013. She took me to a community in Surigao know as Canlanipa, where a number of Badjao people have settled. They live out over the water in crudely built structures. There is no fresh running water, no sanitation facilities and the water beneath their homes has become a virtual rubbish dump. The first things I noticed on that first visit were the colour of the water and what was in it, the number of malnourished children and adults, the homes, the young mothers, large families and the number of school-aged children not at school. Yes I’ll admit all negative things. Things that we would use to measure the status of a community.

Many of these things still exist six years on, although change is creeping in. The greatest change has come in me. I see things differently. Mothers who love and care for their children the best way they can and know, fathers who give their children a better chance of education than they ever had, people disposing of rubbish in the only way they know, the children who are going to school being bright buttons in their community and showing others what they can do, little habits changing, skin conditions improving through education and individuals in the community standing out.

People are people the world over. They have hopes, fears and dreams. This does not change. What those hopes, fears and dreams are, are different. However one person’s dreams are not less worthy than another. Essentially, I believe we aren’t that different from our neighbours. Yes we’ve had different experiences and we might feel differently about the same circumstances but we all feel.

It is here that I find common ground with the Badjao community and because of this, I don’t want to share my blessings. That is what Share, Teach and Reach is all about. Sharing our stories, sharing the stories of others whose stories might not ever be told, teaching each other what we know (and it’s definitely a two way street) and reaching out to help in whatever way we can.

Thank you for your part in this journey so far. May it continue and may you feel blessed for having heard (and perhaps shared and participated) in the journey of the community with whom I work.

Much love

C xo