Australia – “To live with the spirit of Don Bosco is to share love and joy with all people”: a Samoan Volunteer Experience

(ANS – Melbourne) – Catherine Lutvey spent one year as a “Cagliero Project” volunteer teaching at Don Bosco High School in Salelologa, Samoa. The school is located on the remote island of Savai’i and since its establishment in 2011 has played a very important role in the community, ensuring that youth in Savai’i have an opportunity to access high quality, Catholic education. Samoa has always been an area of high priority for the “Cagliero Project” as it is part of the Australia-Pacific Province.

Please describe your volunteer experience.

In Samoa I had incredible life-enhancing experiences. The opportunity to live in a different culture and community allowed me to grow personally in a variety ways. I was teaching English and Studies of Society to Year 9 and Year 10 students. I also provided some support to the teachers at Don Bosco High School such as sharing IT and curriculum skills.

What was one of the greatest joys of the experience?

I loved getting to know the students and forming relationships based on mutual trust and respect. The students shared their sense of humour and fun with me, which was a beautiful way to connect. It was special to see the students reveal their personalities over time as they trusted me more. I remember laughing so much and laughter always brings so much joy!

It was the simple moments that counted. A memory is one day in the classroom there was all this noise with students yelling across the room. I wasn’t sure what was happening until one of the students explained they were organising an order of sharing the one eraser that I had brought into the classroom amongst 40 students. I watched as every single student had a turn at using the eraser to fix their detailed drawing. The small joys!

Samoan time also encouraged me to ‘live in the moment’ and this motto has guided me since my time in Samoa.

What was the one of the biggest challenges of the experience?

The hierarchical social structure was very different to my personal worldviews. It was at times challenging to see the power some people held just because of their social status…

Describe one thing you learned from your volunteer experience.

Despite culture differences there are ways for humans to connect with one another through our basic commonalities. The essence of humanity is to smile, laugh, share a meal together and enjoy each others’ company through life experiences. Sometimes language was a barrier but I found other ways to connect with people. Laughter, smiles and a friendly handshake with others made me feel valued and welcomed. Humans all have basic needs and feelings that are similar regardless of cultural differences.

How has this experience impacted your life journey?

I loved living in a different culture and in a community that took me out of my comfort zone. While living in a completely different environment I grew in ways I didn’t know were possible. My sense of self grew stronger and I developed a deeper understanding of my own values when living in unfamiliar surroundings. I also loved learning so much about Samoan culture and people. I enjoyed teaching and supporting young people who were often in challenging circumstances. They showed that they really appreciated being cared for and loved, and as their teacher I was happy to provide a safe and supportive learning environment for them. It made me happy when they would come up at the end of class and say “thanks Miss” or ask for help with their studies. The experience was so fulfilling that after living back in Brisbane for a while I was inspired to seek similar opportunities. It led me to teaching in a remote Indigenous community on the Tiwi Islands for two years.

What does Don Bosco mean to you after this experience? What can the message of Don Bosco offer the world today?

To live with the spirit of Don Bosco is to share love and joy with all people, and especially young people. It is to be a light in their world that at times can be filled with darkness. It is to love all unconditionally and always find and celebrate the good in others despite differences. When you open your heart and mind up to others with an underlying approach of acceptance and love there is an experience of happiness, joy and peace. If this message of Don Bosco spread throughout the web of humanity it would be a beautiful thing for the world!

Source: AustraLasia


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