Persistence, setbacks and a community pulling together

Sisters Marie O'Shea, Kakare Biita and Tibwau Matia are three of the four sisters living at Abaokoro

Sisters Marie O’Shea, Kakare Biita and Tibwau Matia are three of the four Good Sams living at Abaokoro

Due to the collaborative efforts of many, the Good Samaritan Centre at Abaokoro, in Kiribati, will soon be sourcing its power from a new solar energy system. This is an exciting development, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.

Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the island nation of Kiribati is among the most remote countries in the world. Comprising 33 low-lying atolls spread across 3.5 million square kilometres, Kiribati’s closest neighbours are Fiji and Hawaii, over 2,000 kilometres away. As such, transporting goods and services to Kiribati can be difficult.

But even when goods and services arrive in the country (usually on the main atoll of South Tarawa), getting them to communities spread across vast distances is often a fraught process. The recent arrival of supplies for the new solar project at Abaokoro was no exception.

Having ministered in Kiribati since 2006, Good Samaritan Sister, Marie O’Shea, is well-acquainted with the challenges – and the joys – of life there. For many of those nine years, she’s lived at the Good Samaritan Centre at Abaokoro on North Tarawa, where, among their ministries, the sisters run an early childhood learning centre and offer pastoral care to the local people.

Measuring the holes for the solar array bearings

Measuring the holes for the solar array bearings

In recent times, one of Marie’s roles has been to co-ordinate the installation of the new solar system for the Centre at Abaokoro. It’s a task she has done in close collaboration with a diverse group of people based in various locations, both in Kiribati and Australia.

Key supporters in Australia include Michael McDonald, the Good Samaritan Sisters’ Resources and Business Manager in Sydney, and Father Brian Matthews and a group of parishioners from St Mary of the Angels in Port Lincoln.

“An enormous amount of planning has taken place,” Marie told The Good Oil.

“Many emails have been exchanged… At one stage our internet was not working, so trips had to be made across the lagoon to South Tarawa to send and receive emails.

“Many measurements had to be made. Many holes and trenches have been dug. We employed three extra men to do this work. The hardest job was digging 16 holes, 120cm deep and 30cm in diameter, for the solar array bearings. Many times the workers hit coral or rock and needed to use the crow bar. No mechanical equipment available here,” she explained.

Taking solar panels off the canoe

Taking solar panels off the canoe

Late last month however, Marie and the Kiribati team faced one of their biggest challenges: “the enormous task of getting nearly six tonnes of supplies across the lagoon from South Tarawa to North Tarawa.

“We hired three canoes and used our own boat. About 20 men off-loaded the cargo from the trucks at Bairiki wharf and onto the canoes. Again no fork lifts etc. It was all done by hand,” said Marie.

The six-tonne cargo included the solar panels and pre-mixed cement, as well as a fridge, freezer, stove, grass cutter and lawn-mower.

“Everything went very well until we had the cargo from two canoes sitting on the beach and the council truck we had hired for 3:45pm didn’t turn up until 8:30pm. As rain was threatening, we carted what we could the 500 metres to the Centre using two handcarts, two wheelbarrows and two trolleys,” said Marie.

Cargo loaded onto the wharf

Some of the cargo at the wharf

“What a day!” reflected Marie the next day. The team had worked from early morning until late at night under trying conditions. As one sister from Australia remarked, this was “a tale of persistence, setbacks and a community pulling together”.

Now that most of the supplies have arrived, the task of installing the solar panels and connecting the system can begin. This week (from July 14), a team of seven from Australia – five from Port Lincoln Parish and two maintenance staff from Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills and St Patrick’s College, Campbelltown – will arrive in Kiribati to help complete the project.

“We are most grateful for this very practical partnership,” said Marie.

The completion of this collaborative venture will not only mean a more reliable and inexpensive power source for the Good Samaritan Centre, which will enhance the sisters’ outreach and support of the local people of Abaokoro, but a more sustainable use of natural resources.

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The Good Oil, July 15, 2014. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

6 Responses to “Persistence, setbacks and a community pulling together”

  1. Grace.Ataniman. says:

    It is wonderful to see and hear about all of the great news.I can’t wait for the holidays to come.May He protect and be with you all through all your

    Loving and missing you all.


  2. Sharon McGowan says:

    Wow. What a lovely story and impressive vision. Looking forward to conversations with John on his return, one of the MSB Maintenance team who is helping with this project.

  3. Joan wharton says:

    Great to see a photo and hear news of you- always very practical and happy to learn new things. Love Joan

  4. kristen says:

    Fantastic vision and hard work Marie but it is almost a reality for you all. Well done. I hope with the help of the volunteers from here it will soon be up and running. What a wonderful project. Thinking of you Love Kristen

  5. Rita says:

    Dear Marie and Team,
    Fantastic effort! I can picture it all – and remembering what it was like to carry goods across the lagoon and then get them up onto the shore! I hope your helpers had more muscles than I did!
    Am sure the result will be worth it all. I am totally committed to solar power and I trust it will work well for you. Wonderful collaboration also and so good our schools are deeply involved. Love Rita

  6. Susan Stubenrauch says:

    What a wonderful project and how brave you were Marie to tackle it!! We are very familiar with all the problems you had but it sounds to have worked well. It is the most sensible thing to do for a power supply and we have often dreamed about doing something similar at Abemama for Chevalier College. Maybe we will now you have inspired us. best wishes, Susan Stubenrauch

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