“I am happy about the cultural formation program of our PGS Vice Province (Papua New-Guinea-Solomon Islands) which prepared us to encounter people of different cultures in our formation journey,” the Salesian Prenovice Thomas Warwara explains. “Before coming to the Philippines for our prenovitiate formation, we joined the three-week Melanesian Cultural Orientation Course organised annually by the Melanesian Institute in Goroka, PNG. Then we had an eight-session Orientation on Filipino Culture with Fr. Alfred Maravilla, SDB. After our arrival in the Philippines we also joined the immersion program of the FIS Province also known as the ‘bABBAd Experience’ wherein we were sent to stay with different poor Filipino families for ten days in Murcia, a remote town in Negros Occidental.”
Prior to the trip to the Philippines a three-week orientation course about the Melanesian Culture really helped the PGS prenovices understand the Melanesian culture and understand why their people do things the way they do. In fact, the Cultural Orientation Course was meant for new foreign missionaries to Papua New Guinea and other Pacific Island countries, but for the first time this year, 2018, two Papua New Guineans joined the course with other foreign missionaries. “I found the course very enriching because it helped me know more my own culture. It was also interesting to listen and learn from the criticism, comments and questions of the foreign missionaries about the daily challenges and difficulties they encounter as they serve our people in different parts of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands,” Thomas adds.
The orientation on Filipino culture was very timely and helpful as well because it enabled the participants to understand and foresee what they had to expect in the new culture. “In fact when we arrived in the Philippines, I was shocked to see the place with so many people and high-rise buildings but, most importantly, I tried to see how the people live and go about their daily activities. Our previous orientation helped me a lot to adjust to the new culture without much difficulty. I was able to get along quickly with other prenovices from the Philippines and other countries. Besides the initial difficulty of time change, I was able to adjust to it slowly,” Thomas says.
He adds, “After settling down in the Philippines for about a month, I had an opportunity to join the 10-day immersion program in Murcia, Negros Occidental, with youth from the different Don Bosco Youth Centres here of the FIS Province. There were twenty participants: two of us from Papua New Guinea, two from Myanmar and the rest from three different Youth Centres here in the Philippines.
Before we were sent to the different families, Fr. Arvin Abatayo SDB, the Coordinator of the immersion program, sent us off with a timely reminder. 'While staying with the families,' he said, 'you must learn to See, Judge and Act to the situation of the people accordingly in order to feel how they feel and experience their lives by putting yourself into their shoes. Only then will you be able to grow and develop and have the heart to help those who are in need.'
For me personally, it was an enriching experience since it enabled me to experience the life of poor people who depend only on the land to sustain their daily needs. This bABBAd experience also helped me adjust to the culture of the Philippines and enabled me to identify some of the differences and similarities of my Melanesian culture and the Filipino culture. Our immersion concluded with a thanksgiving Mass with our foster families in the Church of St. John Bosco Parish Mambucal, Murcia, Negros Occidental.
Thanks to my previous cultural formation, I think my first month living in the Filipino culture as a Melanesian made me realise 2 things: firstly, since every culture is unique, we cannot compare our own culture with that of other people of a different culture, and say our culture is better than theirs, or their culture is better than our culture. We must learn to accept our culture as it is and respect the culture of others. This will allow us to be open and foster good relationship with people from different cultures.
Secondly, we can share our knowledge and skills with others who are poor and in need only if we live with them and experience their daily struggles and challenges and learn their culture. Therefore, the challenge for everyone of us is to get out of our comfort zones and understand the other people’s worldview and culture in order to understand the situation of others from a different perspective and with a positive determination to be open to be enriched by others as well as enrich others.”