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Warrane College (Sydney, Australia): Work Camp in Vanuatu

In late August, a group of eighteen students from Warrane College, a university residence for young men affiliated with the University of New South Wales, travelled to Vanuatu, a small archipelago state in the South Pacific Ocean. Their project was to spend a week building a classroom at San Michael primary school not far from Luganville, the largest town in the island of Espiritu Santo.

In 2020 Vanuatu was hit by a severe tropical cyclone, with other extreme weather events in quick succession. The cyclone had its greatest impact on the country’s largest island of Espiritu Santo. Houses and important infrastructure were damaged or destroyed, a sobering sight visible from the air for the students as their flight neared its destination. Many classrooms at the San Michel primary school were destroyed, and they were replaced with temporary structures and tents, which leaked during rain and had accumulated significant amounts of mold since 2020.

The group of volunteers battled through intermittent rain all week, with some bouts of sickness, to construct the walls of the new classroom. They had to work with some intensity, but in the process grew to appreciate things taken for granted in Australia, such as running water, electricity (and WiFi!) and sanitation. The nuns who assist in the administration of the school were great witnesses to faith and charity, looking after the students when they fell ill and providing food in their gratitude for the students’ efforts.

Among the Australian and international students of the group, several made the effort to rise early each day to attend Mass before starting work. Most of them joined in the rosary which was prayed during the heat of the afternoon after lunch, prior to resuming work. The chaplain of Warrane College, Fr. John Watson, also provided occasions for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, with occasional guided meditations. He also celebrated Mass for the villagers when their parish priest happened to be away.

The warm hospitality of the local people and the natural beauty of Vanuatu made for a deeply enriching experience. There was a trip on the weekend to the beautiful Port Olry as well as the historic Million Dollar Point, a famous site containing US military artefacts from World War II. The students also enjoyed snorkeling in the coral reefs of Espiritu Santo as well as swinging by ropes into mineral-rich freshwater “blue holes.” These excursions helped build friendships, not only among the students, but also with local young men.

All of the participants remarked how transformational the camp was, for deepening friendships, understanding people of a different culture, growing in resilience and cultivating other virtues needed in their daily lives.

Romana, n. 77, July-December 2023, p. 233-234.

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