From the New Mercy Members of Papua New Guinea
We are the newest members of the Sisters of Mercy of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and we would like to share some of our story with Sisters of Mercy across the world. Our names are Rachael and Bernardine. Both of us originally come from different villages in the Wewak district in the East Sepik Province of PNG.
My village of Dogur is situated beside a large lagoon which opens up into the sea. When I was young I spent many hours swimming in the lagoon and in the sea with the other children from my village. One day when I was in Grade 4 the current from the river which runs into the lagoon carried me to the sea and I was in danger of drowning. My uncle saw that I was in great difficulty and he ran down into the sea and pulled me out of the water. The people catch prawns, fish, eels and crabs for their food. They also grow vegetables in their gardens.
The location of my village of Penjin is on a hill four hours walking distance from the sea. At the foot of this hill is a large river. Our main food here is vegetables grown in the gardens. Sago from the sago palm tree is also a staple food. Sometimes also we catch fish, eels, prawns, and crabs in the river.
From stories we have heard from our parents and grandparents, our ancestors travelled from the mountain area of PNG to where both of our villages are now. We both speak different languages and we have some different traditions but we also have many things in common. Both of us went to Catholic Primary Schools in our villages.
In my family there are six children, three boys and three girls, and I am the eldest. My father is now working with a mining company in the Western Province of PNG. My parents are living in a village not far from where my father works. My two youngest sisters are living with my parents and are attending school there. My three brothers are doing tertiary studies at various places across PNG.
I am the youngest of my family of six children – three boys and three girls. My parents are both dead and one of my sisters died at the age of thirteen more than twenty years ago. Two of my brothers and one sister are married and have children. My youngest brother lives in Port Moresby with our eldest brother.
When we were young neither of us had ever heard of such people as the Sisters of Mercy.
I first heard of them from the wife of a friend of my father. She, Julie, told me some stories about the Sisters and the work that they do. I was very interested and I wanted to find out more about them. My friend, Julie contacted one of the PNG Mercy Sisters who gave her the name of a Sister to whom I could write. I wrote a letter to Sister Maryanne Kolkia RSM, telling her that I was interested in being a Sister of Mercy. Maryann wrote back to me and sent me some information brochures on the Sisters. She also told me that I would need to have Grade 10 standard of education and that I could come to the Mercy Education programme at Kaindi in Wewak in the following year. I was very happy to hear this.
By the year 2007 I had completed my Grade 10 studies and in the same year I also commenced the Inquiry Stage Two (postulancy) of the new Mercy Members programme. On December 11th, 2007 I was received as a candidate of the PNG Sisters of Mercy and in January 2008 I joined with one other candidate, who was in her second year, in Coolock House in Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province.
The way I heard about the Sisters of Mercy was very different from Rachael’s experience. I found a pamphlet about the Sisters in my cousin’s house in my village which I read. In my heart I thought I would like to become a Sister, but I knew that my education standard was too low. When I was in Grade Six my parents were very poor and they could not afford to pay my school fees so I had to then leave school. However, I decided that I would write a letter to the Sisters to the address that was on the brochure. The Sister who was the Vocation Promoter replied to my letter, but told me that I would first need to complete my studies to Grade Ten. However, I did not give up on my interest in being a Sister of Mercy. In the next year I again wrote to the Sisters and asked if they could assist me to get my education to Grade Ten. Eventually I received a reply that I could come to Catherine House at Kaindi where I could complete the required studies.
When I had completed my Grade Ten in 2008 I moved into the Inquiry Stage Two. On the 13th February, 2009 I was received into the candidacy programme for the PNG Sisters of Mercy and commenced my novitiate at Coolock House in Goroka.
Coolock house is situated on a hillside outside Goroka. It is a beautiful place surrounded by mountains and trees. There are a number of settlements near our house. Settlements consist of people who have come from different provinces across PNG and where they squat on land that does not belong to them. Some of these people work in the coffee gardens nearby. Sometimes some of them are involved in criminal activities such as stealing.
There are six of us in this community. Cathy Jambet is the person in charge of the New Members programme. She comes from a village near Mount Hagen which is in the Western Highlands province, Theresia Boiyek who comes from Kariru Island not far from the coast of Wewak, Maryanne Kolkia from the Chimbu province which is about half way between Goroka and Mt Hagen and one Australian Sister, Pat Wood, who joined us this year. She works with Cathy on some of our programmes. Theresia and Maryann work with PNG Mercy Works Programme in Goroka. Their work involves working with people with aids, prisoners in the local jail, running programmes in budgeting, human rights, basic management training, personal development, self reliance programmes which help poor people to develop their skills in selling the products they grow or make for selling at the markets. Another important aspect of their work is the development of networks with different organizations so that they can work together on certain issues which affect people in this area. Each week the two of us have our community work experience at Mercy Works.
On the other days of the week we have morning classes on different topics related to Mercy spirituality and theology. In the afternoons we have computer training, and some English education. We also spend time in the later afternoon in our garden where we grow a variety of vegetables, such as cabbage, beans, corn, bananas, sweet potato, taro, pumpkin and choko, the leaves of which we eat as a green vegetable. We have leisure time at the weekends and sometimes on Sundays we play volleyball on the tennis court at our house with other religious from the Goroka diocese.
Recently, a significant experience for both of us was the New Membership Conference for Sisters of Mercy from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Cathy and the two of us travelled by plane to Cairns in Queensland for this conference. The topics included Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark and the Letters of Catherine McAuley. Two Mercy Sisters from the Melbourne congregation, Helen and Mary Duffy conducted these workshops. It was good for us to meet with other new Mercy members from another culture and to share our culture with them. We also had the opportunity to visit some of the sights around Cairns. One exciting experience was to travel on the sky rail from Kuranda. We were both very scared when the sky train started to move higher and higher up the mountain above the tree tops but we settled down after we made the first stop. The last stop on this trip was Tjapukai where there is an Australian Aboriginal heritage centre. Here we learned something about the history and culture of these people who are some of the most ancient people of the world. Theirs is a very different culture from ours.
At the end of this year, on the 12th December, our Foundation Day, I hope to make my first vows and next year I hope that I can continue my education studies. I would like to complete my education to Year 12 and then to apply for training in Nursing. I want to be able to work with sick people. There are many poor people in my country who cannot afford to access health care for themselves or their children when they are sick.
Next year I will continue the second year of my training as a new Mercy member. I hope that two other young women who are in the Inquiry stage will join me here in Goroka.
We have shared some of our story with you but we would like to link up with other Sisters of Mercy, especially the newer members, from different parts of the world so that we can hear some of their stories also. Our email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.