WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Gap year students reflect on the Marist Challenge

Another graduation from Challenge 2000’s gap programme

Cecily McNeill
11 November 2011

Thirty-second showers, learning to iron clothes and getting up at 5.30am are memories that will stay with Andrew Solomona for a long time after his time in the LSV (limited service volunteers) of the New Zealand Defence Force.

altAndrew and five others are ‘gap year’ students with Challenge 2000 and the Society of Mary and they are just back from a six-week placement. Andrew who’s from Auckland went with Solana Harte of Waipawa to Trentham, Alivia Bowe from Taranaki and Steve Gordon from Wainuiomata were in the Philippines, Sam Duffield of Auckland volunteered at L’Arche and Thérèse Kyne from Island Bay went to Vanuatu.

Andrew enjoyed the discipline of regular meals – ‘I thought we had to eat snacks between meals but the army taught us how to eat the right amount of food at meals’.

Solana said the first two weeks at LSV were really hard. ‘They really pushed us to our limits but afterwards you felt great.’ Solana broke her ankle, not through army exercise, she is quick to explain, but while playing touch rugby and missed most of the training.

‘I can’t believe I did some of those things – waking up at 5.30 in the morning, jogging everywhere, marching two kilometres to and from the dining room for meals.’ Solana wants to keep up the fitness she attained during her time at LSV.

Andrew says this placement has convinced him to apply for entry to the army next year.
‘My favourite part was the people – I never thought I’d be surrounded by gangsters but they’ve become my favourite people.’

For Steve and Alivia, volunteering in a psychiatric hospital in Davao in the Philippines taught them a great deal about themselves and their goals in life.

They stayed with Marist priest Fr Gavin Foster who’s been in the Philippines for 18 years. With him they went frequently to the hospital where patients are locked up, often undressed and generally uncared for.

Steve and Alivia spent time with the patients, conversing and playing games with them. They were impressed with the nurses who worked six days a week and came back on the seventh to volunteer. Alivia hopes to go back next year as a longer-term volunteer in the hospital and Steve is taking his passion for working with children into teaching. The year with Challenge has helped him to get under his ‘tough guy’ exterior and expose the vulnerable and loving guy underneath and he wants to continue developing this side of himself through teaching.

Sam wasn’t expecting to enjoy volunteering at L’Arche – working with people with intellectual disabilities – during her placement but ended up loving it despite the work being ‘pretty full on’.  ‘It took a while to build relationships – the people at L’Arche are all different – but you can soon work out what they are trying to say. I learnt so much from them. The biggest thing was patience which I didn’t have much of before L’Arche.’ Sam hopes to make a career with people with disabilities at home in Auckland next year.

Says Thérèse, I think we would all agree that we are very lucky to have an opportunity like this rather than just going straight from school to university. We get a chance to discover things about ourselves. We can actually find our bliss and make something from that. It’s definitely a year that addressed absolutely everything – intellectual, spiritual and emotional development. Not many people are shown ways to develop holistically rather than just being told that this is what we have to do.’

Solana says the priests in the Society of Mary have been highly supportive especially at preparing them and debriefing time after placement.

Alivia says the year has been ‘an all round awesome experience for me’ as she has mentored some Porirua College students and watched the changes in them.

For more information about the Challenge 2000 Marist Gap year programme 2012 visit www.challenge2000.org.nz or phone (04) 477 6827.

Image: Alivia Bowe, Sam Duffield, Andrew Solomana, Solana Harte, Steve Gordon and Thérèse Kyne.