INSTEAD of relaxing during the school holidays, a group of 13 students from Gilroy Santa Maria College, Ingham, and St Teresa’s College, Abergowrie, accompanied by four adults, travelled to Naga City in the Philippines to work alongside the Missionaries of the Poor among “the poorest of the poor”.
Ingham District parish priest Fr Damian McGrath said “one of the major projects was helping to rebuild a home for a poor family – mixing concrete, sifting sand and replacing the roof”.
“Each day at the building site, the students were surrounded by local children with whom they played simple games of catch and tiggy,” he said.
While half the group helped to build, the other half painted the women’s section of the brothers’ care facility.
The brothers operate a home for 150 children with disabilities and for adults who have disabilities or have been abandoned.
The Ingham mission group also worked in each section of the care facility, helping with meals, participating in diversional therapy and helping to bathe the children.
Alongside these major works, the group visited the community of Balatas, which is a squatter community next to the city dump.
The residents make a living by scrounging on the dump for resaleable items.
One night, the group joined local residents for Mass and then distributed a cooked meal, bread and juice to hundreds of people.
The next day, they returned to distribute more than 300 bags of food to homes throughout the community.
One of the more confronting moments of the trip was a visit to the city psychiatric facility.
The Ingham group attended Mass with staff and residents and then distributed cooked meals to the hundreds of patients.
Andrew Pallanza, a Year 11 student from Gilroy Santa Maria College, said “the one thing that really struck me throughout the trip was the pure happiness in everyone”.
“Going into the trip, I was preparing myself to experience some very desperate and confronting situations,” he said.
“Within these, I was expecting to meet and interact with some extremely broken and desperate people.
“I was truly shocked by how the poorest of the poor, with no possessions and no future, could be so much happier than middle-class Australians who live educated, wealthy and healthy lives.
“All in all, I think that the simpler we keep our lives, the more in touch with God we will become, and as a result we will experience greater happiness.”
This is the fourth time that Ingham parishioners or students have worked alongside the Missionaries of the Poor in the Philippines.
A spokesperson said these mission experiences had become integral to the life of the Ingham parishes and their high schools.