Catherine Duce – Final News From Melanesia

Dear friends,

My final three weeks in Melanesia have been extraordinary. Sorry for taking so long to send news.

I’ve lived with the Solomon Franciscan Friars in their novitiate training centre (wooden huts) perched on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific, a mini Assisi, surrounded by trees and fruits and coconut trees, sharing in their simple lifestyle (a relief to have less excessive hospitality coming my way as is custom in Melanesia), sharing in daily jobs of feeding the pigs, picking up litter from the beach/coral, preparing dramas about St Francis for mission, eating Kanku (river cabbage) and Kakake (swamp tarro), giving classes on St John’s Gospel and prayer, sharing in much beautiful singing and rhythm of prayer.

I’ve spent 10 days with the Community of the Sisters of Melanesia (a young community who follow the same lifestyle and prayer as the Melanesian Brotherhood).sisters This was a tough experience (not helped by my own exhaustion and short-lived illness , there was no access to running water and sanitation (over 50 mosquitos in the one guest toilet made it unusable so I joined the 50+ novices and sisters who use the bush), I washed only in the sea for a whole week, trying to avoid the river where washing up, clothes washing, sewage from upstream all gathers in a pool, I cried with joy when the heavy rain came which meant I could have a fresh water shower fully clothed standing under the guesthouse roof using shampoo! I would wake up in the night to find the contents of my bag being eaten by rats (payback for sneaking in food thinking I’d be hungry). It was tiring being the constant centre of attention in a community of sisters, many of whom come from the provinces who had minimal experience of talking with foreigners who giggled every time I approached them for the first four days but slowly I found ways to communicate. There were more sick novices than any other community due to stomach ulcers (poor diet) and malaria. I plan to write more about my experience and thoughts about the sisters – when ive had time to sit and process everything. There were SO many blessings too at veranaasoVeranaaso, breakthroughs in conversations with the sisters – taking about their lives and reasons for joining the community and opting for this poverty which was what constantly amazed me. Their stories were humbling… 

I rested a few days in Tabalia. Then went back to the Sisters with renewed energy and determination to talk with chaplain and tutor to find out what hopes they had to improve the water situation. They all said what was needed was a pump pipes and borehole but for 10 years funds had not been forthcoming. There was a general resignation it wasn’t possible. I encouraged them to gather proformas for costings, some actual facts to work with for long-term fundraising, – thinking it would be next year earliest before anything happened and worried I was raising false hopes…

Well, I can honestly say I’ve never had greater proof than last week that if you show one small act of kindness it is returned ten fold with blessing… A purchase of a water pump has been followed by free donations of pipes,  an offer to drill the borehole boreholeby the end of (now last) week (for later payment of 2000 pounds after UK fundraising), there were a succession of astonishing small miracles which made us all laugh – bumping into the right people at the right time, email offers of funds coming from UK and Australia, tax deduction forms being processed in time… In short, hopefully, this community should have cleaner water by the end of next week…

Yesterday over 25 people gathered at the airport to wave me off from across all four religious communities. I was surrounded by so much love and friendship. It has been the most extraordinary summer. Thank you to all who encouraged, helped, and supported me get here in so many ways. Please pray as I adjust to hectic West – I’m dazed! Back to UK on 9th.

Much looking forward to seeing you all again soon,

Love Cath

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Leaving thoughts

Since I have been here in the Solomons for the last three and half weeks I have had to give a few speeches – no lots of speeches. Speeches have been to family groups and a school of about 30 to 1,500 at the feast however  the speech I gave yesterday at the leaving ceremony at Norman Palmer was by far the hardest.

I was stood in front of the school in the Church of Christ the King because of a man who left Feniton to spread the word of God about 150yrs ago and then was martyred – Bishop Patteson. Nearly 2 years ago I stood on the same spot with a glimmer of hope that I would one day return and bring my family, this summer that hope has turned into reality. The memories and the friendships made will hopefully last a life time and I hope Liz, Charlie and Henry understand and forgive me for dragging them half way across the world to go to school and work in another country during their summer holidays.

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Highlights, there have been many! Renewing and making friends, working with the staff and pupils at Norman Palmer School – both groups loved working with the parachute given by Bovey Tracey Primary School. Other highlights include being part of the choir (I am not sure I added much to their wonderful singing!), seeing more of the islands – going to Isabel and Savo although the trip back on the Isabella is not one I care to repeat, the atmosphere when we were painting the school and now how amazing it now looks, working with the ACOM school leaders for a day, going to Tabalia, seeing Charlie and Henry becoming companions officiated  by Arch Bishop David and with Head Brother Mathias watching, the list could go on and on. But three things stand out. Firstly the signing of the partnership agreement, it has been hard keeping the partnership going at times and I have sometimes asked are we making a difference? Now know how important the link is to Norman Palmer and that it has made a huge difference. Secondly another milestone as less than two weeks after the signing we took part in the ground breaking for the new classroom this was made even better by seeing that by the next day the contractors were on site and starting work!

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The biggest highlight was / is the people. Mother Teresa said “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for a smile is the beginning of love”. To come here and be made to feel so welcomed and loved by everyone has shown us the true love of God. Everyone has been so giving, it has been humbling and I only hope that our work will continue to make a difference. Because that is what education should be about – making a difference in people’s lives so they can make their school and world a better place.

Hope for lookim iufala sometime more lon future.

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The last day farewells and last blog

Tomorrow we leave and therefore this will be our last blog as we are handing over our trusty laptop to Mr Benjamin. We arrived at Norman Palmer School after the morning break. The staff and pupils had prepared a farewellling ceremony in Christ the King church. As we walked down the aisle of the church it has felt familiar and comfortable as we have now come to know the staff and students of the school, so different to the first day.

We received beautiful garlands and listened to the amazing voices of the Norman Palmer School Choir. Father Bobbie spoke and then I gave a reply. It gave me great pleasure to present the Norman Palmer School with the parachute donated by Bovey Tracey Primary School. Henry presented each form and class with a union flag. Colin then took the opportunity to give his final farewell speech. Hearing the Celtic blessing in translated into Pidgin was moving and made the moment feel so final.

The overwhelming generosity of the staff and pupils continued as we were each dressed Solomon style with a lava-lava, t-shirt and shell jewellery. The boys also received a Solomon Island Scout neckerchief. The choir then sang their farewell song to us. It was a sad and joyous occasion, we are of course very sad to be leaving but happy to rekindle old friendships and make many new ones.

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In particular we would like to say thank you to Principal Mathias who has made us feel so welcome and feel so much part of Norman Palmer school. Thanks also to Mr O’Brien, head of primary who supported our work in the school and with the painting. Thanks to Madame Rosa for her fantastic friendship and food. Thank you also to Father Bobbie and Marylyn who gave our boys some fantastic opportunities and us care and guidance.  Thank you to all the other staff we worked with, in particular Louise, Susan, Alice 1 and 2, Portina, Inga, and The scout leader (I am sorry I don’t know your name).

Our final thanks must go to Benjamin, Kate, Frizzwell and David. Benjamin has become a close friend and a personal local ‘ fixer’ for without him we never could have achieved all that we did.

Friends at Norman Palmer we will miss you all. Thank you for all your wonderful gifts, we have felt quite overwhelmed by your generosity and care. Our promise is that we will stay in touch, watch for the post and in emails, for although we are half way around the world the hand of friendship will stretch the distance between our two island nations.

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Last few days

We spent Tuesday shopping and looking for gifts, Rosa and Benjamin joined us for the day. The day included a visit to Frangipane Ice cream shop and the Koconut Cafe at the far end of town. We also took time to visit the museum of the Solomon’s which was well presented and culturally interesting. 

In the evening we went out for a meal with Arch Bishop David and Mammy Mary to the Mendana Hotel. It was good to catch up with good friends. 

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Today we will say farewell to our friends and colleagues at the Norman Palmer School.  Many of the teachers have given us feedback. The feedback shows that the partnership is growing between the school and that we can learn from each other.

“ Your visit is a great milestone for us in terms of interacting and sharing of ideas”

“ One of the most important thing Colin and Liz taught us was the skills and way they taught language.”

“ One of the interesting things was the way that teaching can be with games”

“ Your input encourages me to improve my practice and I will put more cultural activities in my lessons”

“ The resources used were very effective and encourage active learning”

We are now busy writing our speeches for the leaving ceremony.

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Our last teaching day at Norman Palmer School

We awoke early to get the taxi to Gilbert Camp, I am not sure the boys are too thrilled at having to get up early and go to school in their holidays! We attended assembly and then arranged with Mr O’Brien to go into some of the primary classes. I arranged to go in class 4 and work with the class I worked with last week. I did a circle time and focused on phonics and gaining confidence when speaking English. The children liked the games and gave positive feedback. I then taught a story to class 2. After break I worked with class 3, the children wrote little books for classes in Feniton and Tipton St.John.

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Colin worked with class 4 and class 2 and worked on books and some mathematical problem solving. He finished with parachute games.

At the end of the morning Colin and I worked with the primary teachers on some Literacy and numeracy activities. We finished the session off with parachute games. I really hope the teachers find time to use the parachute with their classes. Mr O’Brien gave a positive message on the impact we have made to the teachers and made reference to the active way we encourage children to learn.

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We have one more day on Honiara tomorrow and then say our farewells to the school.

Henry and Charlie gone out with Brothers Patrick and Hilton to the Bamboo lounge, Colin is out and about with Mr O’Brien.

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Ground Breaking

Sunday August 18 2013 is a significant date for the Norman Palmer School and the partnership with Feniton, Tipton St.John and The Kings. Just less than 2 weeks ago we signed the partnership agreement today I was one of the honoured guests to perform the ground breaking for the new classroom block, along with the ArchBishop of Melanesia David Vunagi, Dominic Meiklejohn British High Commissioner, Frth George the Chair of the School Board and the contractor. The plans are to put more 8 classrooms on the Norman Palmer site to help keep the older children, forms 3 and 4, in schooling and will eventually include a practical area for home economics and carpentry. 

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The ground breaking was not only symbolic, the contractors have been appointed and the foundations will be started tomorrow, Monday, but it is also an act of faith. When I asked if they have enough money to do all the foundations the reply was “That God does not help those who will not help themselves!” It was also announced by Arch-Bishop David that they hope the new Arch Bishop of Canterbury will visit sometime next year, so the school has been given the challenge to raise the funds and build enough of a building so that the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury might be able to visit and open the new teaching block. This will be a real challenge to ensure that the funds are raised by the school community, there is very little funding from either the Government or the Church to help with building projects. The challenge then is to complete the work in faster than Solomon Time otherwise Arch-Bishop David will have retired before the opening of the new block!

After the official activity we took part in a feast provided by the staff and parents of Norman Palmer School, as always a marvellous spread given so willingly.

Finally we have caught up with some of the blogs and washing, although there is no water in our room at Chester House! Tomorrow, Monday we are back in class, but starting to count down to Thursday when we will be leaving. It is amazing how quickly the time has gone here.

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Becoming a Companion

Today the 18th august 2013, my brother Charlie and I became Companions of the Melanesian Brotherhood during a 2 hour service at Christ the King as the school was leading the service. Mum and Dad had to do a reading each and we were part of the school choir. Last night Father Bobbie came and gave us companion booklet and in the morning we awoke at 6:00am and got up and got dressed. The taxi came and the family and some brothers got in and we drove to Christ the King at Gilbert Camp.  The British High Commissioner was present. We walked into the church and at the start after the opening Archbishop David invited us up to the front and read from the service book all that he needed to say. Then I said my promise and Father Bobbie gave me my necklace with my medal and now I am a companion –Henry

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As parents there are times in life that your children make you have a tear in your eye. Today’s was one of pride as both Charlie and Henry made their promises to become Companions. It was also significant that Head Brother Matthias who we met on the Simply Living Mission UK at Easter made the trip from Tabalia to be at the service. Colin

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