Sister Germia Tocama’s five-day Sydney visit turns into five months

When Good Samaritan Sister Germia Tocama left the Philippines for Sydney in early March, she intended to be here for five days to attend a Good Sams’ Plenary Council meeting.

But thanks to COVID-19 border restrictions, five months later she is still in Australia and has placed all her future plans in God’s hands. “I just came for five days to attend a meeting,” she laughed. “And I am still here!”

Just as she left Manila, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a lockdown on the whole city and her flight home was cancelled. Germia was then given a chance to go home by March 23 but by then Australia had closed its borders as well.

“So all my travel plans and also my future plans are on hold,” she said.

Srs Germia, Anne and Grace in Bacolod.

Germia, who made her perpetual vows as a Good Samaritan Sister in 2013 and has been working in the Good Sams’ Kinder School in Bacolod City, had been planning to enrol in a psychology course at university when she returned from Australia.

But with the uncertainty about her return to the Philippines, she has had to put the plan on the back-burner.

Faced with no way to get back home for now, Germia is keeping busy, living with the Good Samaritan Sisters’ community in Meadowbank Sydney.

“The community at Meadowbank has been so welcoming to me,” she said. “At first, I kept busy there, doing odd jobs, like cleaning windows, doing household chores and gardening.

“But when the Congregational Offices reopened at Glebe in July, the Sisters invited me to help there. So that’s where I go from Monday to Thursday. I do anything that’s needed, from filing to cleaning, tidying up – anything at all to help.”

Sr Germia with the Good Sams’ Meadowbank community.

Germia also observed that the Sisters in her community at Meadowbank enjoyed the occasional baked goods, so she has taken up baking as well.

“Yes, I’ve learned a new skill. I’m learning to bake! I like to bake things for them to enjoy. That makes me happy,” she said.

Her unexpected extended stay in Australia has made Germia rely more on God’s providence and less on her own plans.

“One realisation I made during all of this is that in my community at home, at the start of every year, we would plan for the year,” she said. “And now this has happened and my plans are out the window for now and I realise that I don’t have a Plan B. I have to rely on God to bring everything right.”

Germia said she had been able to continue remotely with some of her work commitments in the Philippines, including training a new financial officer for the Kinder School.

“I have been working the finances at the Kinder School and this year we were to have a new finance person take over, because I was going off to do university studies,” she said.

“So he had started before I left and I’ve been in touch with him from here and have been giving him tutorials in the job. That has been a great thing because, otherwise, with me stuck here there would have been nobody doing that job.”

Germia is still hoping to get her studies underway when she returns to the Philippines, although it looks as though it will be delayed until next semester.

“The psychology course will help me in our ministry in Bacolod,” she said. “I’ve been thinking that our society is not very good in terms of mental health care and I feel that in the future this kind of knowledge and care will be a necessity.

“So, when this is all over it is still my plan and, hopefully, it will happen and will materialise. But in the meantime, I’m very grateful to everyone here who has been so kind and welcoming.”

Published in The Good Oil, August 2020.