The Teacher’s Tale

The second in a series of tales of people who have donated their time, and skills to the Apostolic Ministry in the Pacific

Katherina wanted to help support and grow the Orthodox Mission in Fiji.  This is her story.

Over the course of a number of years Katherina, a qualified and practicing teacher from New Zealand has been travelling to Fiji[1] twice, or even three times, a year in her school holidays for stints between 10 – 14 days to help the children under our care at St Tabitha’s Orphanage. This she has done at her own cost and for purely selfless reasons – simply out of love for the children of the Orthodox Mission and all those associated with their care.

Let me tell you a little about her, our sister in Christ. Katherina is an Orthodox Christian who lives in the Horowhenua region of New Zealand. She has lived and worked in many places around the world, choosing finally to settle in New Zealand with her family. A few years ago they moved to Levin and this was done for no other reason than to be close to the Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Archangels which is located in Levin; it is here that Abbott Meletios, Director of the Orthodox Apostolic Ministry, is based.

Katherina’s first trip to Fiji was in 2016 The purpose of the trip was “to familiarize herself with the Fijian context in order to help the children at St Tabitha’s Orphanage with their reading”.  

“My initial visit was short because I wanted to see if I was a good fit within the community. I knew that working with children closely was going to require some long-term commitment; in fact, I felt at home immediately.”

On arriving at the Orphanage, she was immediately drawn to the children who, though very friendly, were initially also quite watchful. As she got to know them, their relationship with her developed and she observed their wonderful qualities, in particular their eagerness to learn, their simplicity and gratefulness for even the smallest kind gesture, and their many small kindnesses to her. There was, however, a degree of nervousness about this first trip, with our sister having some nagging doubts about how much of a positive impact she could really make on these children; why these thoughts though? Partly because she is quiet, thoughtful, a deep thinker and certainly doesn’t like to be in the limelight nor draw attention to herself. But it was exactly this ambivalence which was the key to the ensuing successful outcomes. She went to Fiji wanting to help but without any preconceived ideas about “what should be done”. She went with an open heart and mind and observed the situation – the children, their interactions with each other and with those who looked after them, she asked searching questions, listened to responses, sought advice and then, moved forward from that point. 

This was the start of a special relationship that has blossomed over the years. What started out as a teacher/student type of relationship developed into something a lot deeper; Katherina is no longer seen as “just a visiting teacher” but as many other things, an aunt, a trusted friend and confidante, and her visits are eagerly anticipated by all. Something which is undoubtedly a testimony to the impact and value her selfless service has had over the years!

She has seen first-hand, over the years, what the children’s needs are, needs which are not just scholastic but more basic. This has provided for many opportunities to reach out to a wider community back home in New Zealand and to widen the pool of assistance. The trips became a topic of conversation at a number of levels, e.g. with friends, work colleagues, friends of friends, fellow Church goers, etc. These conversations sparked an interest in the lives of these children, their very basic needs and a wish by many to help in some way to improve the quality of their lives. People started donating things for the volunteer to take with her to Fiji, such as clothing, books, stationery, toiletry packs, etc. 

So, what started as an exercise in “helping the children with their reading” has grown into something much bigger, something which involves many other people – and the reason for this? The initial brave step that our volunteer took led to the kindling of that instinctive desire that lies within each of us, the desire to help our fellow-human beings. This one act of reaching out and enabling others to help the situation had a snowball effect – what started out as many acts of kindness by work colleagues, friends and others, then developed into a wider interest in the Ierapostolé and what its aims are and enabled those who wanted to help at some other level to do so – be it by further donations of items, monetary donations, offering of skills and time both in New Zealand and also in Fiji. In other words, it provided more opportunities for different types of assistance from a much larger pool of people.

At the same time though, our sister Katherina continued to offer assistance as a teacher but, not just for English. Through being an example of love in Christ, in silence and love, she helped the children with many other things. In short, through love in Christ she helped to give them a sense both of self-worth and of belonging to a wider whole.

‘People around me often ask me how I manage giving up my holidays to do more teaching.  Initially, I did wonder how that would affect me.  In fact, it doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing my holidays; it is actually energising and spiritually fulfilling. So I would say, the hardest step is not the helping, but the initial decision of whether to help or not; you have to hold on to the belief that God will help you to achieve something if it is done in a spirit of Christian love.  I am the giver, but certainly also very much the receiver of divine love through my wider Orthodox family in Fiji.  When I go there, they greet me with the words “Welcome to your second home.” How amazing is that?’

[1] Her last trip was at the start of 2020 due to the global Covid19 pandemic.

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