Solomon Islands Immersion 2017

Day 1

After a long time preparing for our immersion we have finally made it to the Solomon’s. Despite the 4am  wake up we are all excited to be here. We were greeted by both the sisters who had beautiful handmade leis and the intense heat. After settling into the brand new Formation House, the Sisters took us to the Honiara markets and the local cathedral, where we immersed ourselves into their culture. We came back to our first Solomon’s Islands Dinner where we were welcomed with a feast accompanied by singing and dancing. We especially loved their song ‘Welcome to our Family’. We then sang our college song  to them, which was nowhere as impressive! We had a great first day and excited for the rest of the trip.

Day 2

It was our first full day in Honiara, where our trips motto “TTM” ( Trust the Mystery) was really put into action. We began the day at a beautiful mass at St Joseph’s Boarding School in Tenaru. It was a beautiful service filled with lots of love,  song and passion. It really made us contemplate our own faith and interaction with God considering how we too can celebrate with such enthusiasm. The sisters then decided to take us on an ‘hour and a half walk to the local waterfall. After only reaching half way after 2 hours, we knew we were in for a long trip. Amongst thousands of blisters and bruises, Mary losing her shoes down the river, Jemma belly flopping in the mud, everyone else falling at least twice (except Anna) and walking barefoot over logs, rocks and mud we finally made it. Standing before us was the most amazing waterfall. It made up for the 4 hour walk and well worth it. Swimming in the refreshingly cold waterfall with the locals and enjoying the sisters company was an experience we will never forget. We will definitely sleep well tonight.

Day 3

After a short stay in Honiara Father Nicholas drove us to the airport where we took a short flight to Auki. Despite the small size of the plane we were very much rewarded with the beautiful Islands and spectacular views. We were again welcomed with open arms and handmade lei’s by the famous Sister Loretta and her white hair, as well as students from Aligegeo High School who we will be spending time with us during our stay in Auki. We then got to experience how to travel like a true Solomon Islander in the back of a Ute with our bags toppled on top of us – something we definitely haven’t done before. After settling into Funualama we visited the Cathedral and local preschool. We played with the children, made masks and butterflies, played with bubbles and sang many songs.  We provided their school community with a number of resources, clothes, thongs etc which we were gratefully received. Before leaving little ones were running around in their new clothes very happy. It was incredible to see their content and happiness with so little and yet we created moments to cherish forever. In the afternoon students took us to visit Auki to buy fish and fruit for dinner. We then joined together for the evening Rosary and welcome dinner. What a spread- rice, chips, fish and chicken. We learnt that meat is a privilege in the Solomons and we were so grateful to share a meal with such generous and welcoming people. We cannot wait to spend the rest of our time here in Auki with them.

Day 4

Today we had our first visit to Aligegeo High School in Auki. But we need to take you back much further than that as we woke up and were seated in the Funualama Chapel ready for mass at 6 am. Sister Loretta rang the bell at 5.45 and we dragged ourselves out of bed, brushed our teeth and shuffled off to the chapel that was already full of people. These were mostly Sister Loretta’s students who later told us that this is their favourite part of the day because they get to meet their friends and sing. We have so much to learn from them. Later at the high school we saw how eager they were to learn as they devoured the books we had brought with us for them to read. Their eyes lit up as they saw the computers that  everyone had donated and so excited to learn how to use them. They didn’t want to go out to lunch instead choosing to stay and learn. For lunch EVERYDAY the students eat rice and cabbage. They were amazed at the simple lessons of learning Word and PowerPoint and wrote us some lovely letters of thanks on the screens. After school we played cards with the students and exchanged dance moves and songs. We felt like we had truly connected with the students and began to see what ‘ Immersion’ really means. The rosary, as always, was at 6pm sharp back in the beautiful chapel. This was followed by another Solomon Island feast of rice, mince and fresh fruit. Although many of us have been challenged by the heat, we can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring. 

Day 5

We began day 5 with our daily morning prayer, at 6 am. Our wake up call is the startling church bell that Sister Loretta rings. The students from Aligegeo join us each morning and continue to amaze us with their strong faith and passionate singing. After breakfast we walk to school to begin teaching English and computer skills to both students and teachers. In small groups, we play games such as duck duck goose, soramacadora and fun spelling games. In the afternoon we rallied up some fierce competition so that we could play a heated game of soccer. We split into two teams and surrounded by joy and laughter we played Girls v Boys. After a close game, the girls took the win. The boys were very surprised at out soccer skills as we gave them a run for their money on the field. With many aspiring famous soccer players, the students truly showcased their enthusiasm and skill. What joy a simple ball can bring to so many students.

Day 6

Today was a luxury as we had 15 minutes extra sleep. After another day of grammar games and computer skills, we joined the students in their singing practice. We were all captivated and in awe of their voices and natural ability to sing and dance. With just one guitar to lead them, all students were so harmonious and all of us were completely enthralled not to mention a little jealous. Following the singing practice the students stayed behind to talk and play with us. It is fair to say that we have truly become part of their community as we continue to build our connections with students, teachers and the locals. We got out our cameras and Polaroids so that we could give the girls printed out photos. For some this is the first time seeing and holding both a camera and a picture so their excitement was heartwarming.

Day 7

Day 7 started with an early mass given by Father Moses. We then again taught computer skills to Form 3 at AH. Today we made our own lunch, banana and peanut butter toasted, back to Aussie basics. We then joined wit the students for singing practice in the chapel and lessens a dance to our favourite song ‘Pacifica’. It is a traditional Fijian dance, and is sung in Samoan. We were so excited that our Solomon friends could braid so the girls braided all of our hair. This was a time of sharing great conversations with the girls, times we will remember. Braids done we had a friendly game of soccer and some of the younger children before dinner. Treated again with our favourite meal – rice, mince and beans! Today we were again amazed by the consideration of the students and their willingness to socialise and learn. This is something we hope to bring back to our own lives and community along with the many lessons we still have to learn. 

Day 8

We began our day with a luxurious 6.30 wake up and then joined the students for their final singing practice before their Eucharist on Sunday. A few of the boys taught us one of their traditional offertory dances, which we are to perform tomorrow in front of the congregation. We have become so much closer with the students as we join them in all of their songs and dances. At 11am we walked to the soccer stadium at the school where the weekend sports matches would be held. Our friends from Aligegeo played a brutal match of soccer against the Coastal Warriors. We cheered with the students in the stand and watched as the boys played a great game in the ridiculous heat. After an unfortunate disallowed goal, the game went to a penalty shootout which created excitement in the crowd. High stakes in the knock out match to take them through to the final rounds. With an injured goalie, Aligegeo went down. After lunch Firm 6, year 12 students took us for a walk around the markets and to the lookout over Auki. What a beautiful tranquil town! We spent the afternoon playing at Funualama with some of the younger children living there. We collected flowers to decorate our hair and played balls games until dinner time. Another wonderful day In Auki. 

Day 9  

The day of Prayer stayed with out a bell and as we rose we began to prepare for our Sunday Mass at St Augustine’s Cathedral. We were all very excited to see our preparations paying off during the singing and dancing during the mass. All of the Catholic students joined us and their joy and praised raised the roof throughout the service. As a group we all walked back to Funualama to share the day together. While the food was being prepared, we played soccer and volleyball together and continued with our singing and dancing. All of the students are so kind and we are so glad to say that we have made genuine friends on this trip. After being blessed sharing the delicious lunch together, the form 6 students helped us to prepare the liturgy for Rosary. Sister Loretta had to almost force the students the leave as we were happy to play around and sing with them all night. Our singing continued into the night as we reflected on our wonderful day with the Catholic students. 

Day 10

We began the day with our usual 6 am mass. It was beautiful as always, and at this stage in our trip our own connection with God has grown stronger as we can see how God can unite people. It was also a special day of celebration as it was Sister Loretta’s Birthday. Although it is uncommon to celebrate birthdays in the Solomons , we threw her a typical ‘Aussie’ birthday party. We went to the markets and collected all the party essentials- the ingredients to make her favourite banana cake, balloons and candles. While there we couldn’t help ourselves and we spent a few minutes buying some souvenirs of shell bracelets, necklaces and sarongs. The food technology girls out their skills to the test to bake the cake without a recipe in true ‘TTM’ style. Sister’s  party was a success as we expressed our gratitude towards her in our individually hand made cards. After our celebrations we had Rosary, which was followed by some deep yet lovely conversations with the Aligegeo students, now our close friends- Everesto, Gabby and Lewis. They wanted to know about our experiences in the Solomons, which led to us discussing the differences between here and Sydney. They were trying to convince us that we were the privileged ones but we know that we lack the love, community and spirit that they are so rich in. We all left the conversation feeling very inspired and with tears in our eyes (well some of us). Livening the time we joined together in the conference room where we danced and sang with a few of the students. Sister and the teachers had to force us to go to bed because we were having so much fun. Tonight we are feeling a combination of sadness and excitement for tomorrow as it will be our last day at the school and we will have to say goodbye to our true friends. 

Day 11

Today was a very bittersweet day to say the least. Our time here in Auki is coming to a close and we find ourselves using the term ‘last’ too much- last trip to Aligegeo High School, last soccer match, last Rosary and last Funualama feast. Being our last day, instead of teaching we joined the students in their usual classes to experience why their learning environment was like. Today we shared our lunch at school with some of the staff and students and were brought to tears with their kind words and gratitude. In the afternoon Sister Loretta organised for us to visit the small village of Lilisianna. We traveled on the back of the truck with our friends from school. It was a quaint village right in the edge of the island with gorgeous views of crystal water and lively locals, especially the children. We were truly spoilt on our last day here. The fun continued with another friendly soccer game. Our last Rosary was met with a packed chapel full of the friends we had met over the last 10 days. Tears continued at dinner as the students had written a heartfelt song to farewell us and performed it together. This showcased how true and strong the friendships we have formed here are. Although it will be difficult to say goodbye, the memories will stay with us forever. 

Day 12

We woke up with the realisation that it was our last day in Auki. As per usual we began our day with morning mass which was over crowded with our friends from Aligegeo High. Although we had to farewell some students, our close friends stayed behind despite having classes at school. After being asked about the ‘ best and worst’ parts of the immersion by our close friend Everesto, we all agreed that the worst part was having to say goodbye, however, making new friendships and being a part of such an inclusive community was definitely something that resonated with us all. Our last hours at Funualama were spent talking, singing and playing. As bittersweet as it was we could be nothing but happy to be surrounded by the faces of our new best friends. When the truck pulled up our stomachs dropped and the realisation of us leaving hit everyone. Not having to say goodbye just yet, we all piled into the truck on top of one another. We tried to fit as many people as we could for the trip to the airport. On route we all say the farewell song that the students had sung for us. As we waited for the plane we took our last photos, received letters and exchanged tears. We watched as the plane descended and frantically shared hugs and goodbyes. Seeing so much love and emotion truly showed how special the connections we have formed are and how incredible this immersion has been for all of us. As some of the students pointed out, ‘ if it is not possible to meet again on earth, we will all meet again in heaven. 

Day 13

Today marks out last full day in the Solomons and we were rewarded with a 6.30 sleep in. After breakfast we set out on our 1 and 1/2 hr (Solomons time) for a 3 hr journey to Visale. The ride to Visale was not at all smooth as we made our way down winding roads full of pot holes after a traffic jam through Honiara. The mood as we traveled through road works and congestion was lifted as Brother Michael leaped out of the bus, walked through the traffic and into the other vehicle to return with lollipops for us all. As we continued driving through the bustling city the landscape transformed in to a tropical oasis. We were greeted by calming waves, smell of fresh air, luscious green trees and warm welcomes by the Sister of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate. We were eager to jump off the bus as we were amazed by the fresh blue waters. It was not long till we all dived in to the crystal clear waters for a long awaited swim. After mucking around with the canoe and swimming amongst the coral we broke for an amazing lunch prepared by our teachers. After, we relaxed on the shore and with the change of scenery we felt as though we were on holiday. After an afternoon we all came away with some colour except for Gabby who unfortunately burnt as usual. Returning to formation house where we prepared for our final feast with Archbishop Chris and his sister Nancy who was visiting from the States. The food was wonderful and the entertainment joyful as they shared songs and dances for the farewell. The sisters taught us a dance and presented us with gifts of sarongs from the Solomons. We ended the night with the chicken dance, the favourite dance of many of the Sisters. Overall today and tonight was a wonderful way to end this amazing experience,  full of smiles and laughter with the Sisters in all an amazing send off.