June 2021

Enlightening presentations help to establish Kiribati Connections

A presentation on the life and culture of the tiny Pacific island nation of Kiribati by two I-Kiribati Sisters of the Good Samaritan has had a big impact on those who attended, with many saying it brought home in a personal way the reality of the world’s climate crisis, writes Debra Vermeer.

The ‘Kiribati Connections’ presentation by Sr Taabeia Ibouri SGS and Sr Katarina Kabiriera SGS was part of the Third Tuesday Conversations, a series of events organised by Good Samaritan Life and held at the Congregational Centre in Glebe. More than 50 people attended, including Sisters, Oblates, staff members, and students and teachers from Rosebank College and St Scholastica’s College, Glebe.

Taabeia and Katarina, who are currently based in Sydney, shared their experiences of life in Kiribati, the culture and skills of the people, and the impact of climate change on the fragile island communities.

They also spoke about some of the ministries the Sisters of the Good Samaritan are involved with in Kiribati, where they have had a presence since 1991. These include visiting the mental health inpatient ward at the local hospital, looking after the elderly, establishing schools, and a current project to refurbish an old convent to become a community centre for the local villagers.

“It was a wonderful chance to remember my beautiful country, my culture, my home, as well as the ministries the Sisters are involved in,” Katarina said.

Taabeia said she also enjoyed introducing to people aspects of the I-Kiribati culture and life.

“I presented on where Kiribati is located, its geography, as well as the Kiribati flag and the meaning behind it, and the impact that climate change and rising ocean levels are having on my people,” she said.

“The highest joy for me was firstly that people came to listen to our stories. I really appreciate that. It was also a chance for me to share not just where Kiribati is and the beauty of my country but also to express my concern for the Kiribati people and their future.”

Jennifer Solari, a staff-member at the Good Samaritan Congregational Centre, said she always attends the Third Tuesday Conversations.

“I look forward to all of them as I love the way we come together and share our spirituality with one another,” she said.

She said Katarina and Taabeia’s presentation was a “real moment of connection”.

“I learned how precious family is in Kiribati and how connected the villagers and communities there are and just how much they live supporting one another for the wellbeing and harmony of all,” she said.

“Taabeia and Katarina’s presentation about their home and life in Kiribati was a reality check for us who are so fortunate here in this wonderful country. A part of me felt ashamed. We take so much for granted. To hear and learn how fragile their world is – something so disconnected from my reality – felt horrifying to me.

“To see pictures of villagers planting mangroves to protect their shores and Taabeia having to help her father fish at first light; learning that the local hospital is often flooded by seawater and to see her fear of not knowing if her island home will still be there when she is able to return, was very confronting.”

Sr Agnes Farrugia SGS lived in Kiribati for five years and was part of the leadership team which established the Good Sams’ foundation there.

She said Katarina and Taabeia’s presentation was both informative and heartfelt because it came from their lived experience.

“Kiribati is part of their identity,” she said. “They both conveyed beautifully the sense of community and the simple lifestyle, which to us might seem to be a deprivation, but the people there are so joyful and happy. It is a culture of celebration.

“And the section on the effects of climate change that are happening in their home right now, not at some time far off in the future, really captured people’s attention, I think.”

Fran Vella, Mission Leader at St Scholastica’s College, Glebe, said she took some Year 11 and 12 students from the College Social Justice group along to the presentation.

“I thought it was important to take the students along to the Kiribati Connections event as it was an opportunity for them to learn more about the active presence the Sisters of the Good Samaritan have had in Kiribati,” she said.

“As supporters of the Good Samaritan Foundation, it is important for the students to make real connections with the ministries of the Sisters and attain a greater insight and understanding into this remote community, which we help support through the Social Justice fundraising initiatives.”

Rose Mitchell, Social Justice Prefect at St Scholastica’s, said she appreciated learning from Katarina and Taabeia about how Kiribati is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, with the rapidly rising ocean waters threatening to decrease Kiribati’s already small land area and displace more than 100,000 people who live there.

“It can become easy to distance ourselves from the issue of climate change,” she said. “Although we may see images of melting glaciers or bleached coral while watching the news, for many of us, global warming is not something that we experience in our everyday lives.

“Hearing the stories of Sisters Taabeia and Katarina highlighted the urgency of the climate crisis, humanising those frightening climate statistics that circle through our media.

“Sr Taabeia’s powerful final question – ‘Will I still be able to call Kiribati my home?’ – moved us all.”

The next Third Tuesday Conversation: Heal Country! Celebrating NAIDOC Week will take place on July 20 from 10am-11.30am. There is no cost to register – click here or send an email to spirituality@goodsams.org.au


Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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