Now about to complete her placement, our prolific Palms Poster Louisa Cataldo gives her final installment, reflecting on her life at Holy Family Care Centre, Ofcolaco South Africa.
This is the fourth time I have tried to begin this final letter. Where do I begin? How about Christmas? It was beautiful, we celebrated Midnight Mass at 7.30pm with the children followed by a glass of wine (maybe 2), ham sandwiches and my chocolate dipped shortbread biscuits. On Christmas Morning the Nativity play that we had been rehearsing for the entire week came together with a real baby Jesus and singing of carols. The children received generous gifts of toys from Santa and then the Sisters, Fr Patrick and the volunteers ate a traditional South African lunch with the children. The heat and humidity was in fine form so it reminded me of home very much.
Many of the children went home to relatives or to foster families for the holidays and 10 children were reunited for good. The preparation and lead up to over 30 children leaving for such an extended period of time was extraordinary and it is only possible due to the Social Worker here at Holy Family and the dedication of the Sisters particularly, and the volunteers who all contributed to doing whatever needed to be done. It was a very intense time. I had tears in my eyes when some of the children left, especially one little girl with whom I had been somewhat attached. It is perhaps during the lead up to Christmas that I saw even more so the way in which the children here are looked after, cared for, loved and given as much opportunity as possible. It is sad when one thinks that many are going back to poverty and that only through their own resolve, motivation to be educated and resilience will they break the cycle. Despite this, the generosity of the Sisters was and is still paramount.
Through my emails in the past year I hope that I have raised your awareness about sustainable and peaceful development through volunteering with agencies such as Palms. This is part of their mission as is being able to participate in the exchange of knowledge and skills, developing capacity of communities and helping to reduce poverty. Palms’ values include “solidarity”, brought about by love, respect and personal integrity and responsibility. Volunteering has shown me how I can participate in achieving or rather contributing these things in a real, tangible and worthwhile way. It is a privilege to be able to do it, with successes and challenges along the way, but always with love in my heart.
Coming here for me was about responding to the call of the Gospel and trying to find what God was asking of me. I have not had some “epiphany”. However, I feel at peace if this is the work that I need to continue to do again in the future. I thank Palms for their support, the Sisters and Fr Patrick here at Holy Family for their love, care and generosity. I hope I have opened my “hands to the world” through my involvement with Palms as much as the Sisters and Priests open their hearts to the world with their ongoing missions. It is living with the local people, for me here in Africa however, that one realises that all the differences in the world are united by the one universal concept of love and care for fellow man. No matter the poverty, violence, indignity and every bad thing in between, a person’s love even if in the smallest of ways overcomes the darkness if but for a moment if not a life time.
This week we have welcomed back the ones who have been away and continued to prepare everyone for school- think of the 500 books that have been covered with brown paper and plastic- we did it in two nights! I had the best birthday, with the sisters baking a cake and the children making a sign and singing happy birthday, the best part was cutting the cake and blowing out the candles with the children, I felt like a child myself! Of course, birthday wishes from family and friends reminded me of how blessed I am. I thank you all for your support over this year, thank you for your emails, for your best wishes and your encouragement. May God’s blessings be abundant in the New Year! As always I leave you with some photos; a leopardess I saw last week, my birthday, and of course the children, the last ones from Holy Family Care Centre, Ofcolaco, South Africa. See you in Sydney.