Good Samaritan Sister Felicity Hardy’s work in the Philippines has manifested her dream to be of service to others. The experience has also enriched her life in many ways, writes Asther Bascuna-Creo.
BY Asther Bascuna-Creo*
Good Samaritan Sister Felicity Hardy is not used to being the subject of a story; neither is she comfortable being in front of a camera. After initially meeting her you get a sense she would rather talk about others or the work of her congregation than herself. She speaks of herself in an understated way, almost dismissive of her own achievements. Indeed, this is a reflection of something deeper in her personality – that of being a person for others.
As a child, Felicity had always wanted to be a nun. She was attracted by the lives of the sisters who taught her from primary to secondary school. Her mother, a caring and prayerful woman, was also a big influence on her.
“I felt a calling to become a Good Samaritan Sister so that my life could be given to God and the service of the Church, to live in community with sisters and to have prayers as a regular part of my life,” she explains.
In 1964, Felicity entered the Good Samaritan Sisters’ novitiate and was professed as a Good Samaritan Sister in 1968. It was the start of her service through various ministries to extend help not just to needy communities in Australia, but also to rural areas in developing countries. Felicity would continue to seek out ways she could use her skills to help.
Through continuous education and training, she was also able to acquire and further develop her skills so she could contribute to the Good Samaritan ministry of being neighbour to those in need. In 1979, Felicity went on to study nursing at the Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney.
“At that stage a lot of the sisters were ageing and we didn’t have anyone [within the congregation] to look after them,” says Felicity. The nursing degree allowed Felicity to care for the ageing sisters in Melbourne.
Felicity worked in this area before she felt drawn to palliative care, a practice that was still quite new at that time. She attended training and received her credentials in gerontology through the Anne Caudal Hospital in Bendigo, and studied at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne and the Royal College of Nursing, to gain skills in this area. It was during this time that her next ministry was born.
“The Director of Nursing asked me to establish a palliative care program at the Hamilton Base Hospital,” she says.
For Felicity, introducing palliative care into Hamilton, a rural area in western Victoria that had not encountered the practice before, was a challenge.
Felicity was instrumental in establishing a palliative care program at the Hamilton Base Hospital. While there, she also noticed how the people would have to travel to Melbourne, Ballarat and Warrnambool to receive chemotherapy. Through funding, she was able to send five registered nurses from the Hamilton Base Hospital to attend training at Peter MacCallum so they could administer chemotherapy to residents of Hamilton.
This was indeed the work Felicity was looking for – to be able to use her skills to help out and make a difference in the lives of people. However, she felt she could still do so much more.
“I still wanted to do something more, perhaps in a developing country somehow,” she says.
The Maldives was just the answer to what she was seeking. At that time, diploma nurses, community health workers and nurse aids in the small island nation had to go to India, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong for their education, while those who had already graduated were sent to Tasmania and Western Australia to update their credentials.
Felicity got the permission of her congregation to deliver the Community Aid Abroad Training program with Care Australia and teach at the International School of Health Science in the Maldives. For almost three years, Felicity trained healthcare workers in this school so they would not have to go overseas for their studies. This experience working in a different culture would prove helpful for Felicity’s next ministry in a developing country.
“I just came back home to Australia [after working in the Maldives] when I was asked if I would consider going to the Philippines,” she says.
The Good Samaritan Sisters had established an outreach program in the impoverished communities in Negros, Philippines. When the Japanese Good Sams first arrived in 1990, Negros was identified as one of the poorest areas in the Philippines with different layers of need, including generational poverty, lack of educational opportunities, scant job availability and health issues, among others. The work that needed to be done was quite huge, and the Japanese sisters who started the project were feeling overwhelmed. They called on their Australian sisters for help.
Felicity, with her skills in healthcare and qualifications in nursing, was a fitting candidate. In 1997, she became the first Australian Good Samaritan Sister to be missioned to Negros.
“I was shaken very quickly from any pre-conceived idea that I was ready for the experience,” she says. “I kept asking myself, ‘Am I the person who could walk in the Filipinos’ shoes and be a help?’”
With the depth of need in the community, Felicity found her work extending beyond her initial ministry. Primarily assigned to work in healthcare, she found herself also working closely with non-government organisations, which enabled her to minister in the prisons where there were a large number of political prisoners. She also ministered to sugarcane farmers and worked in an orphanage caring for 0-2 year old children; in a boys’ home with intellectually challenged children; and in residential aged care, among others.
“The needs of the community were numerous – lack of food, unable to tap into the education system, little or no work to support their families, poor health due to lack of food and medical assistance,” she says.
For six years living as a missionary in the city of Bacolod in Negros, Felicity inevitably began to walk in the Filipinos’ shoes and share in their everyday lives. She went to the markets, rode in the jeepneys and worked closely with the mothers of the kinder children. She soon came to know about the harsh realities in the farmers’ lives – how an illness in their families would prompt them to take a loan with the land owners to be able to buy medicine, resulting in a cycle of indebtedness and bondage. She came to know about squatter families who cannot afford to send their children to kinder and thus miss out on primary schooling – kinder being a prerequisite even for the public school system.
“The journey began of ‘walking in the shoes of another’. Seeing what resilience the Filipino people have was a constant reminder of how fortunate and blessed I was,” says Felicity.
Felicity described those first six years in Negros as wonderful: “As a missionary you always know that your task is to render yourself superfluous and to look to new horizons and challenges to allow people to become independent and self-reliant”.
Felicity went back home to Australia in 2003, but was asked to return to the Philippines four years later. When she went back, she was very pleased to see that a lot of the ground work established during those initial years had borne fruit. Felicity also noticed that a new middle-class was evolving in the community.
The Good Samaritan Kinder School had also just been established. The local community of sisters had evolved and was more structured. It comprised of a formation community with an Australian formator, two Filipina novices, and Japanese and Australian sisters.
Felicity’s mission this time around was to set up a medical clinic to look after the healthcare needs of the Kinder School children, their families as well as nearby squatter communities. Her aim was to train a local counterpart to take over her role when she returned to Australia. Felicity stayed in Bacolod for three years to manage these initiatives and ensure their long-term application.
Felicity’s work in Bacolod has manifested her dream to be of service to others. She says the experience has also enriched her life in many ways.
“My time in Bacolod encouraged me to see new ways to live out the Gospel values. My perspective on life has changed. The Filipinos’ life encouraged me to live more simply, be an advocate for the poor who have little or no voice in the world,” she says.
It has been seven years since Felicity left her mission in the Philippines and 25 years since the Japanese sisters started the foundation there. In May, Felicity and a number of other Good Samaritan Sisters will return to Negros to take part in the 25th anniversary celebrations.
“I am really looking forward to meeting with the children and staff, and to look at the changes and growth that have taken place, especially in the area of healthcare,” she says.
“Most of all I am excited to meet with the people and the friends I have made in Bacolod.”
* Asther Bascuna-Creo is a communications professional living in Melbourne.
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