This post will include the major parts of my past week in Newcastle. I couldn’t post while I was there because I didn’t have any wifi but I want to share all the exciting things Elizabeth and I did. The two major aspects of our trip was working at Penola House and then at Corpus Christi primary school. We were at Penola House on Tuesday and Thursday of this week with Sr. Diana (Dominican Sister) and Sr. Betty (Josephite Sister). Penola House is a safe place for refugees to come where they can seek guidance and assistance throughout their transition into Australia. It’s a difficult time for people who can barely speak or read English, and who have no friends and family, to feel safe and comfortable in a new country. Therefore, Penola offers english lessons, assistance filling out paperwork, a place to bring their children, exercise classes, skills for employment seeking, driving classes, sewing classes and much more. Pretty much anything a refugee needs help with Penola House will either help, or send them to someplace else that can help. So on Tuesday we had a very introductory day where we just learned about the organization and what they do. We met many of the volunteers involved in the organization as well as met Sr. Diana and Sr. Betty and Kiri, the three key components who keep the organization running smoothly. It was also Catholic Relief Services of the Diocese day, where members of different Catholic organizations spend some time at another organization to learn about what they do, etc. We met many different people involved in CatholicCare and also who work directly with the Ministry of the Diocese.
On Thursday, Elizabeth and I assisted Sr. Diana with various tasks throughout the day. We went with her to deliver brand new bicycles to a family who has recently arrived from Afghanistan. The Penola House was given many new bicycles and Sr. Diana was willing to give them to any refugees who had first purchased a helmet. Afterwards we went back to Penola and interacted with more of the refugees. I was in the child care center with a few of the volunteers playing with the children whose mothers had brought them in for the day. Elizabeth and I met many of the refugees, but spoke with a woman from Cameroon who had a 7 month old daughter named Ariel. She came to Australia on a university scholarship to get her masters degree in social change, what a brilliant young lady she is. Upon arrival she learned that she was pregnant with Ariel, so she had to get her degree and raise a child in Australia without the help of any friends and family. She has completed her masters degree and is planning to go back to Cameroon to introduce her daughter to all her friends and family there. We then went to the home of a man who came from Sudan. His name is Muriel and he lives in government housing in Newcastle. He wasn’t there when we arrived but Sr. Diana had a key so we could measure and plan for what materials we needed to make him curtains. We went to get the supplies down the road and then quickly dropped them so we could make lunch at 1pm. Elizabeth and I were both very lucky to get the opportunity to accompany Sr. Diana to the home of family from Afghanistan, whom we dropped the bikes to earlier in the day, for a delicious traditional Afghan lunch. We learned about their family and how they came to Australia. We then ate delicious food cooked by the wife. I didn’t even know what I was eating but I just ate everything there. After lunch we went back to Muriel’s home to put up the rest of the curtains, and luckily he was there so we could meet him. Muriel has had a very difficult life. He went back to Africa to visit and take a break from Australia, and unfortunately suffered a stroke while there. He didn’t receive proper medical treatment after the stroke and thus is no longer able to speak or use the right side of his body. Even though he couldn’t speak, I found him to be so kind and upbeat. It was evident that he was so thankful for us being there to give him curtains for his home, he even gave me a high five as we put the last one up! Sr. Diana explained to us that Muriel doesn’t know the basic things about cooking or living in a house, not because he had a stroke, but because he previously never lived alone (his wife and children is a sad story). She suggested that he would benefit from occupational therapy to help him learn how to cook and take care of himself, it is even more necessary for him to have this therapy since he can only use one arm and cannot walk well.
Penola House & Sr. Diana’s Car
After a long day working with Sr. Diana, Elizabeth and I were dropped at the community to have a meal with all the sisters. I had such a wonderful time at dinner talking with the sisters and enjoying a delicious meal. They all just made me feel so welcome and so at home. Having the opportunity to live in the community was such a great experience because I really was able to see first hand the life of the Dominican Sisters. They all look after and rely on each other each day and regularly meet for afternoon prayer and catch up on any news. Elizabeth and I went to two of the afternoon prayers and it was great to be a part of it. They live a very simple and happy life filled with a wonderful relationship to God. The common misconception is that people in poor countries live different lives than a typical American does, but in reality, there are so many groups of people who live different lives than us. And I saw this firsthand while living with the Dominican Sisters. Overall, it was such an amazing, yet peaceful experience.
Here I am with all the Sisters! From Left to Right: Sr. Pat, Sr. Geraldine, Sr. Ann, Sr. Jenny, Sr. Ann
Selfie with the sisters.. Had to be inventive to get everyone in one photo!
I should add, that the Sisters in Newcastle are passionate not only about the refugees but also about the environment. Both Sr. Diana and Sr. Jenny are very green. Sr. Diana’s house has solar panels, a water recycling system and a wonderful garden with vegetables, fruits, herbs and even a couple chickens. She says she wanted to make her house very self-sustaining and I think she is achieving that goal. She was very proud of her house and told us how much she loves it. Though Sr. Diana is very environmental friendly, she learned that her ecological footprint is still so large. If everyone was to live like her, we would need 2 earths! (I think when I took the test it said 8…) She told us the reason being is she takes an airplane once a year, and that airplanes are a huge contributor to pollution.
On Wednesday, Sr. Jenny took Elizabeth and I to the school she works at called Corpus Christi. It is a co-ed, primary school in very close proximity to the community. The day we came was a fundraising day for Sr. Jenny’s trip to the Solomon Islands next week. She is going on a team with some of the other Dominican Sisters to meet with the Dominican Sisters who live in the Solomons. Sr. Jenny gave a short presentation about the Solomon Islands to each class, and then some of the students donated a dollar, more or less. Meanwhile, some of the girls started a hair braiding fundraiser as well as a loom banding fundraiser. During recess time, there was a FIFA World Cup and junior World Cup for the students to participate in. Each student who wanted to play paid one dollar and then could compete against others classes. The students absolutely loved this tournament. They were chanting and yelling and supporting their teammates to no end. I couldn’t stop smiling at their excitement for the entire duration of the tournament. By the end of the day, Sr. Jenny raised around $550 dollars in total! It was such a great outcome for Corpus Christi being just a small primary school. Sr. Jenny was so thankful for all the support her students gave to her.
Here is a photo of Sr. Jenny giving a presentation on the Solomon Islands to one of the classes at Corpus Christi
On Friday, Sr. Jenny took Elizabeth and I to take cruise out of Nelson Bay to go whale watching. It was an impromptu excursion Sr. Jenny decided we would really enjoy and I am so glad we did it. We ended up seeing between 8-10 whales, as well as some dolphins and seals! The ocean here in Australia is picturesque. The water is a beautiful, clear, blue color and the sand is a bright white color (I’m getting so excited for our excursion to Cairns). I don’t know what it is about the ocean but it has such a calming and relaxing effect. When there weren’t any whales to snap a photo of, I looked out at the ocean and felt very content and relaxed throughout the cruise.
Here are some photos from the excursion!
Me, Elizabeth and Sr. Jenny on the cruise
Me and Sr. Jenny
Harbor at Nelson Bay
(Too bad they didn’t hop out of the water!!)
Dolphins and Seals