By Paul Dobbyn
SALESIAN Father Ambrose Pereira has come from the Solomon Islands to pursue social media studies as part of his mission to encourage the islands’ young people.
He wants them “to look beyond selfies and reach out to help others”.
Completing a Masters in Communications for Social Change at the University of Queensland, Fr Ambrose’s mission vision is clear.
“I want our young people to use social media not merely to look back at pleasant photo memories of themselves,” he said.
“People in their communities are struggling with all sorts of issues – corruption, abuse, the impacts of climate change and so on.
“How can our youngsters best bring these concerns out into the media and help make a difference for good?
“Also how can I help them best share what they are thinking about, whether it be about faith, moral values and ways to reflect on these?
“What are the most effective ways to use Facebook, Twitter and other communication means such as articles and video clips?
“If I can help these young people to do these things, even in small ways, they will become missionaries to their own people.”
The 54-year-old Salesian priest’s formidable range of skills, experience and achievements ensure success for his latest mission.
Born in Kuwait to Indian parents, at the age of five he settled with his family in Mumbai, India where he attended St Theresa’s primary school followed by several years at Don Bosco High School.
Year 12 was spent in pre-novitiate studies in the Indian city of Nashik.
The young man next headed for two years further studies in Yercaud, Tamil Nadu, followed by studies in science at Pune and four years in Bangalore studying theology.
Fr Ambrose was ordained in 1990 and spent the following eight years in Matunga, Mumbai.
In 1998, he applied to go on mission abroad.
“The Salesian order had decided to take up mission countries in 1980 – the focus was on Africa although there were also other countries … these were in the Pacific and included PNG and the Solomon Islands,” he said.
“I’d always wanted to go to a mission country but there were these questions within: Am I ready? Am I not ready? Will it be possible?”
Finally Fr Ambrose asked to go on mission and his superior agreed.
“I was to go to the Solomons – in 1995 three men had been sent but when I asked in 1998 there were none, so I was it,” he said.
“I learnt Honiara Archbishop Adrian Smith had issued an invitation to help out with Catholic communications which I started immediately on my arrival there.”
Fr Ambrose became director of Catholic Communications Solomons, a role he held till 2010. He assisted Christ the King parish Tetere and other parishes as well as conducting youth programs and media education programs in various locations across the Solomon Islands.
Regular weekend programs were conducted at the Bosco House of Prayer in Kola Ridge.
Students, particularly from Catholic schools, profited from short-term courses and programs, helping them to analyse and appreciate the various fields of mass media.
Fr Ambrose was also responsible for initiating Radio BOSCO FM 89.9 at Tetere, training young radio presenters from the villages of North Guadalcanal to produce and broadcast programs.
In 2008, he was appointed rector of Honiara’s Henderson Don Bosco Technical Institute, replacing the founding rector, now Bishop Luciano Capelli.
Fr Ambrose is proud of his achievements from this time, one in particular.
“Henderson is an technical institute for young people from 18 to 24 who have become disengaged from the mainstream,” he said.
“Carpentry, electrical work and life skills in general were being taught when I became rector.
“In a bid to get more resources I tried to link up with a local college but they weren’t interested.
“I then tried to connect with the Australian Pacific Technical College.”
This was at the start of his second three-year term as rector. In 2013, Fr Ambrose received wonderful news.
“In May that year, the APTC invited us to form a partnership,” he said.
“This brought funding, enabling equipment to be upgraded and instructors with experience beyond what was available in the Solomons.
“The Henderson institute can now also offer a curriculum recognised in Australia as well as Pacific, a great advantage to graduates.”
The Don Bosco Technical Institute now runs trade courses for about 250 students and weekend courses for another 150 students.
At the end of 2013, his second term as rector over, Fr Ambrose was farewelled.
One of the speakers at his farewell noted: “Fr Ambrose will be remembered in DBTI for the partnership with APTC, which takes the students to a level 3 qualification, the new six-flat staff house, the numerous volunteers associated with the institution and other innovations at the institute during the past six years.”
Now focused on his latest mission, Fr Ambrose said he had organised a media project with young people through his UQ study program.
“I recently completed a video, Investing in Youth, based in Beaudesert as part of the series Big Stories, Small Towns,” he said.
“The series shares stories of innovation and resilience with a global audience.
“I also worked on a photography project on identity and dreams with students at St Mary’s School Beaudesert.
“I was very touched by the reflections of one girl who had selected a photo of paramedics with their equipment.
“She wrote she had chosen the photo because she wanted to be a paramedic.
“She explained this was because her mother had died of cancer and she wanted to help others.
“Examining media in this way had become an important platform for this girl who was only 12 or 13.
“It had deepened her thinking so that she wanted to reach out to help others.
“It’s experiences such as this which give me great hope for teaching the young to interact with media in positive ways which can help the whole community.”