A small group of girls who recently graduated year 12 accompanied by Marist leaders will be heading off to the Phillippines for a week of immersion in Davao.

The inspiration was for an alternate form of 'Schoolies', which has now transformed into a Marist experience. These people will extend beyond their comfort zone and live in the village of Davao, working and offering the power of human connection to those living in a mental hospital supported by the Marists.

Another Fantastic Day, Jessica Cammell

posted Dec 14, 2012, 1:57 AM by felicity.mccallum@syd.catholic.edu.au

Hi everyone,
Today has been another fantastic and life changing day for us here we were picked up by our lovely guide (and instigator of the challenge 2015 team), Angie. She drove us to the missionaries of charity center to meet the sisters of Mother Teresa and two elderly former patients of the mental hospital. Angie had helped have these patients of 75 and 80 moved to the missionary center so that they did not have to live in the terrible conditions at the mental hospital. We were lucky enough to arrive during a performance time they have for the patients to sing and got to hear some moving performances.We then met the women that had been moved their with Angie's help and the 80yr old women began to dance and move around with such excitement. It was a shock and a treasure for all of us that she was so full of life and happiness being much more agile than many women her age. We then said goodbye and went back to the hospital where we waited on the lawn at the patients were brought outside for their singing practice. We listen to their absolutely moving renditions of beautiful sunday ,i cant live if living is without you and we are the world. Whilst the patients were singing three of them were brought over to us to help practice their speaking parts in the mass for their Christmas party Isabella and I worked with a very interesting man who spoke English very well and had finished his passage perfectly in about two minutes. We spoke to him about his life and experiences he told us that he loved to sing and that the choir gave him great happiness he then told us about various things that he had memorized throughout his life including many bible passages and every single American president ever in order, he was a very intelligent and lovely person who was also very aware of his abandonment and that he would probably spend the rest of his life in the hospital. This was particularly hard for me to process that someone could know that and just accept it, i also learnt just how much of a difference could be made just from talking to these people and listening to what they had to say. I could see the joy and happiness that this man gained from a simple conversation as he was much more animated and expressive he was when he rejoined the choir. We then helped hand out snacks and juice for the patients. unfortunately we then had to say goodbye and went for a delicious lunch and rest back at the hotel. Later tonight we are going over the Angie's house for a dinner with the challenge 2015 team and father Gavino as he is called hear we are all looking forward to it.
,love Jess

A Confronting Truth...

posted Dec 13, 2012, 5:15 PM by kate.young@sydstu.catholic.edu.au

Hi all, Kate here!
Yesterday was a very emotionally (and physically) taxing day for us all
We were lucky enough to visit the Mental Hospital here in Davao, with a guided tour of the institution by our lovely Angie and Xai, her daughter who are supporting Fr Gavin and the Marist Fathers ministry.
As we passed through the women's and men's ward, we saw the faces of the oppressed, the lonely, and the desperate. They were confined by the concrete walls and floor around them, some with metal bars imprisoning them. Most sat or lay on the hard floor, where they did everything - slept, ate and toileted.However, as Angie and Xai enetered each room, these sorrowful faces transformed into warmth and joy.
It was absolutely astounding to see not only the impact that a simple smile or a hug had on these people. The work of the Marist fathers and the Challenge 2015 team was clear, even from the first observation - they were providing human connection straight from the heart, and empowering these downtrodden people with a sense of dignity and humanity. It is so clear to me that without the persistence and dedication of such wonderful people, these patients would be without any human touch whatsoever.
The shocking reality of this place is that these patients not only are classified by society as 'insane' or 'outcasts', but their own families share the same view. We were informed that these patients were stripped of their sense of being human, because their own mothers, fathers and siblings abandoned them. It is the gentle guidance and the warm hearts of the Marist Fathers and Challenge 2015 that have lifted the spirits of these people, and provided them with the nourishing warmth that most of us take for granted - a sense of family and human connection.
Even a simple idea like a "Patient's Choir" which we were privileged enough to witness, brought about an unbelievable transformation in these people. They SANG, they DANCED, they SMILED and together as they stood before us performing, they were encouraged to reach a potential that they had never achieved before. They were given a purpose and a goal, which brought meaning to them in such a small way, but projected a tremendous light inside each and every one of them, that shone through as their voices 'illustrated' what any words would fail to do.
Let me just say.. after their performance, I will never be able to listen to any rendition of "We are the world" in the same way again.
Back to the hospital now, stay posted.. more to come!!
Love Kate


posted Dec 13, 2012, 4:29 PM by felicity.mccallum@syd.catholic.edu.au

Hi Everyone,
We have cruised into the Philippines on a quicker than expected route with tail wind giving the plane the extra pulse to put us down on the tarmac for a full night of discovery and delight in Manila. We found the enthusiasm to go out in search of a bite to eat after our 8 hour flight was an easy thing to find as we convoyed in taxis past luminaire spectaculars as Manila celebrates Christmas in it's own exuberant style.
The girls and the accompanying adults laughed and skipped into the market areas, talking to local young adults about life in the Philippines, education and life opportunities going forward.
After a glorious sleep, we transferred to Davao and were greeted by the beautiful smiles of the Marist Father chaperones led by Angie and our Marist Sister hostess for the day, Sr Sheila.
The introductory talk included the maxim that there are two kinds of weather here, "Hot and really hot," laughed our new friends...and we wiped the sweat off our brow and took another swig of water, (bottled of course!)
In a Christian community on the water, there lives a community of women and children who are struggling to survive not only extreme poverty and lack of resources that would be customary in most of white Australia, but they are stuggling to survive life itself with dignity.
We later learned that these gorgeous, joyful ones were looking forward to our visit for a long, long time. When we arrived, the 30 or so people there cheered and one of the women had prepared a speech in english that was straight from the heart. The little children's gazes were square on us and their eyes left imprints on our souls. The mothers were being led by Sr Irene to produce beaded crafts as an income-generating project to insulate themselves from expoitation. It was piercing. That was how our girls described it. Such overwhelming love in the midst of such harrowing conditions. We were all overcome and tears ran freely.
The songs they sang about 'Loving Always' and 'Christmas in our Heart' only enhanced the strong pull we were feeling to respect the example of their generosity - to give all to Life. Incredible voices!

By jeepnee then we ducked our heads and wove our way through the backlanes of the Bagau district in Davao.
Sr Tarika and Sr Monica sat with us in a very 'zen-line' classroom, in that it had an atmosphere of utter peace, and this is so marvellous because it was situated in the middle of the most chaotic surroundings we have probably ever witnessed!
We heard and felt the amazing reality of the presence with the poorest of the poor that the Sisters offer here. Again tears rolled as little children spontaneously arrived in the room and started dancing or singing to us. Kate, Isabella and Jess were like magnets for the infants who wanted ALL their attention. It was so sweet!
Some of our teachers at MSCW had given me money to help wherever we could while over here to show our solidarity with the Marists and the people in this incredible place and soon the opening showed itself:
As Sr Tarika explained that the reason ALL the children weren't here today to meet us was because the younger Sr who usually taught them had lost track of her family in the typhoon last week. We listened to the ZERO capacity for thousands of people to put their hands on the resources to even set up temporary shelter, in the face of losing loved ones and their lives as they knew them. I noticed that the need for tarpoline was strong just to erect something to get the people through this harsh period. Eventually after gentle discussion, Sr Tarika advised us that if we would purchase some gas lanterns then the people in the mountains could use these to have light in their nights. So, led by the brave, generous, loving ways of Cathy Young and Bronwyn Newman who are accompanying our girls, off to a Hardware store we went, and by virtue of the generosity of the MSCW teachers as well we were able to gift twenty families with gas lanterns and Sr Hazel's family with some cooking apparatus they need. She has recently located her family, unlike one of the Challenge 2015 Team that we met last night, whose community lost 1000 people last week in the typhoon. It is a bittersweet interfacing we are involved in here!
Last night all Marist Sisters in the Davao area hosted the 6 of us for a magnificent meal and prayer experience.
Their joy and peace is the lasting impression that will inform our own hearts in our lives forever.
Fr Gavin joined us on the rooftop meeting room of the Hotel after all this last night. He is Chairing the Marist Fathers' chapter and he is also 'walking with us' by sharing and guiding our activities here. Enough be said that the night ended in laughter and the assurance that our next day would be gently unfolding, in tune with the invitations of the experience as much as the thresholds of our hearts to bear them.

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