Good Samaritan Sister Donna Belle Ferrer said she receives much more than she gives from her ministry in psycho-social support for diocesan seminarians and parents and teachers at the Good Samaritan Kinder School in Bacolod, the Philippines.
Donna began her latest studies earlier this year and is living with Sisters Jill O’Brien SGS and Carmel Posa SGS in the Box Hill North community.
This will be her second period living in Australia, having completed her Novitiate here from 2016-19.
“I wanted to integrate Theology into my ministry later on, especially in the area of guidance and counselling,” she said. “I could also see that this would be very helpful for me in a personal way, with my relationship with God.”
Donna, who was born and raised in Bacolod, first joined the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in 2015 after discerning a calling to religious life while she was doing her exposure as a lay missionary.
Wanting to be part of a congregation with a missionary charism and community prayer life, friends suggested she contact the Good Sams.
After initially meeting Sister Maree Nash SGS, Donna was accompanied through her ‘inquirer’ period by Sister Eiko Mukae SGS before entering the congregation in 2014 and taking her first vows in 2019.
Prior to entering the Good Sams, Donna had completed her BS Psychology degree at West Negros University, followed by a Master’s of Religious Education in Manila.
Upon entering the congregation she worked as a guidance counsellor at St Scholastica’s Academy-Bacolod, run by the Missionary Sisters of Tutzing.
When she returned to Bacolod after her Novitiate, Donna completed her Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counselling and began volunteering in the local diocesan seminary, providing psycho-social support.
Aside from her work in the seminary, Donna also works in the Good Samaritan Kinder School supporting parents and teachers, both in counselling and also providing an enrichment program.
“Most of the parents are still young and their life situation means there are many mental health issues,” Donna said.
“I’m so grateful that when I entered the Good Samaritans I could continue with my ministry in counselling and with my studies.
“With my work in the seminary, it is though I am journeying with them and looking at my own vocation as well.
“It is more a case of them helping me than me helping them.
“What I really like about working in the seminary is the group supervision we receive from the bishop. All the formators in the seminary meet with the bishop every month. From this, I learnt that I can also improve in these aspects of my life, so it is helping me personally in my human formation.”
Donna said her years in ministry have helped her to hone her skills in the different techniques of counselling and build up a network of mental health professionals to whom she refers her clients as the need arises.
“I can also see how I’ve improved my working relationship, not only with the staff at the Kinder School but it has helped me really get to know more of our parents,” she said.
“I can see that they are really grateful that I am helping them to become better in their mental health situation or other issues they might be going through.”
Living in squatter settlements in one of the poorest areas of the Philippines, many of the parents at the Kinder School were not aware that counselling existed or how it could help them in their day-to-day struggles.
“They didn’t have any idea that they could go for counselling without judgement or prejudice or that people wouldn’t treat them like something was wrong with them,” Donna said.
“I’m happy that they heard about me and what I can do during their orientation at the Kinder School.
“The people are also very grateful if I refer them to a hospital or psychiatric centre where they are then able to access free medicine.”
Donna said she was excited about beginning Theological studies in Melbourne and is already enjoying the experience.
“At YTU they have hybrid learning where you can take classes online or face-to-face, but I’m glad that most of my subjects are face-to-face,” she said.
“My classmates are a mix of lay people and religious and what I like most is that for many YTU students, English is a second language and so we can all support each other.
“It’s a really great opportunity and I’m very grateful.”