July 2022

Oblates’ outreach initiative focuses on the elderly in Bacolod

A long-distance collaboration between Good Samaritan Oblates in Caboolture, Queensland, and Bacolod, the Philippines, has resulted in a new grass-roots initiative where the Philippines Oblates visit elderly people in their local community and help support them in their needs.

By Debra Vermeer

The program, which is underpinned by donations from the Caboolture Oblates, got underway in May this year, following a period of discernment by the local Oblates to identify how they could best respond to the many needs that exist in their local community.

Sister Sonia Wagner SGS, who is based in Queensland, said the Caboolture Oblates had been supporting the Good Samaritan Foundation for some time, but decided to try and personalise their support of the Bacolod community.

“They thought it would be good to get in contact with the three Good Samaritan Oblates in the Philippines and, working through the foundation, to ask the Oblates what sort of project they could specifically donate to,” she said.

“A lot of emails went back and forth between the Caboolture group and the Philippines group and, following some discernment by the Philippines Oblates, they decided to keep it very simple and embark on this project of visiting the elderly. It really is a very grass-roots example of ‘being neighbour’ to people in need in the local community.”

Sister Germia Tocama SGS, a Filipina Sister based in Bacolod, said the need for such a project in the local neighbourhood had been discerned by the Oblates there, but the support offered by the Caboolture Oblates inspired them to start it.

“We had our conversation and discernment back in April at Maryshore Mission Centre in Talisay City,” Germia said.

“Assisted by Sister Leonie Deunas SGS and myself, the Oblates’ conversation started by exploring questions such as: ‘How are you as an Oblate? If there is a specific undertaking identified, what are the possibilities of stewarding it with sustainability? Do we have the human resources to do this? What are the needs around us in the local community?’

“Through the course of the Oblates’ conversation the suggestion for an outreach program with the senior citizens, aged 60 years and older, was decided upon.

“There was optimism and enthusiasm among the Oblates in Bacolod, knowing that the Caboolture Oblate Group in Queensland was with us on this endeavour of being neighbours.”

Good Samaritan Sisters have lived in the city of Bacolod on Negros Island in the Philippines for more than 25 years. They work alongside and in support of families living in the squatter settlements of Boulevard and Mambuloc and those whose home is on the street.

Most people in Boulevard and Mambuloc live in extreme poverty because of limited access to basic infrastructure and services. Their housing is inadequate and health levels poor. The impact of COVID-19 has made life even harder.

Germia said that against this background of poverty, the simple program of Oblates visiting the elderly seeks to reach out according to the need of each person.

“There were experiences we knew of where elderly people were struggling without any pensions or support from the government and most of them are from poor families who cannot sufficiently help them,” she said.

“It might be food, medication, or someone’s presence that is needed. Sometimes people just really need someone to talk to.”

“With the support of the Caboolture Oblates, our Oblates have been able to reach out to these elderly people.”

One of the Bacolod Oblates, Susan Delfin, said the group took a deliberate decision to focus on the elderly in their outreach initiative.

“In the Good Samaritan Kinder School, where I was a volunteer before, we deal with kids, so this time we thought of the elderly and grandparents to be our first project in this ministry,” she said.

“Some of them are taking care of their grandchildren because parents are away or out at work. Some of them are exhausted, weak and fragile, and it touches our heart to see them like that. So, we thought of making ways to lessen their burden, make them happy and feel loved in our own small way and that’s why we started visiting them.”

Susan said the elderly people they visit were grateful for their presence.

“A visit from anyone makes them happy,” she said. “And together with our visit, we bring them some food and they’re happy that they’ve got someone to talk to, even for a while.

“It gives me so much joy that in our Oblate ministry we have the chance to help, to give moral support to the elderly, and make them feel they’re not alone. We’re trying to reach out to more who we can help, too.”

Sonia said the collaboration between the two groups of Oblates showed what could be achieved by looking at the need around us and asking, “what can we do?”.

“In this case it’s a project, which on the face of it is very simple, but it’s meeting a need for those elderly people and it’s the very definition of being neighbour,” she said.



Debra Vermeer

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

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