By Catherine Lutvey
Declan Crowe and I volunteered at Don Bosco High School in Salelologa, Savai’i Samoa for the Salesians’ Cagliero Project in 2013.
As volunteers, we were welcomed into this wonderful community, however, we soon became aware of a number of struggles in day-to-day living for locals including inadequate healthcare, financial hardships and limited transport options, just to name a few. So, in April this year while enjoying lunch, we didn’t think twice about helping when our Principal Fr. Mosese proposed a novel idea to address the lack of affordable transport for students to travel to and from Don Bosco High school. Sadly, as I have witnessed throughout the year, this lack of transport and high costs results in students arriving late or worse, not attending school at all. A very passionate man, Fr. Mosese, suggested we walk around the entire island of Savai’i to raise funds for a greatly needed school bus. A Catholic Education at Don Bosco fosters young people’s academic, cultural and spiritual life so it was something we were enthusiastic about supporting.
After travelling around the island in a car, it seemed like a long, long way to walk! We got the map of Savai’i out at the table and estimated it would be around 160-200km. We knew there would be a lot of hard work and training ahead to achieve our goal. It was a brilliant idea and we started putting our thoughts into action. Our enthusiasm and excitement guided us from that initial day to MAKE IT HAPPEN! “Walk for a Bus” was born!
Fr. Mosese organised a team of people to help us with the organisation of the event. We had amazing support from people in Apia and Savai’i to arrange accommodation, sponsorships and advertising about “Walk for a Bus”. Also, we had incredible support from Australia to promote the event within schools and communities. We couldn’t have done it without all the people involved to spread the word and organise logistics for the actual walk. During the months leading up to the actual walk, I could really sense a lot of interest in this cause coming from people in Samoa and overseas. Fr. Mosese worked tirelessly and quietly to ensure everything was in place for the walk to be successful.
It was this momentum that kept us motivated about our walking training every day. We had to coordinate our training sessions around our busy schedules of school and parish life. We spent many hours talking and walking along the roads of Savai’i to prepare ourselves for this walk. Staff members and Salesians Community members joined Fr. Mosese, Declan and I for various walks making these training sessions a memorable experience. It was then that I began to realise that this cause was not only about raising money for a school bus, but also about community spirit and building relationships with one another.
At 5.30am, in the early hours of Monday 19th August, Fr. Mosese, Declan and I met up with a team of people ready to embark on our journey ahead. We joined the Salelologa parish community for Mass at 6am. It was wonderful to see everyone in their yellow “Walk for a Bus” t-shirts, offering their thoughts and prayers for us as we began this huge 182km trek around the island. Although these members of the community couldn’t join us on our walk, we knew that they were with us in spirit, thoughts and prayers. Along the way we were reminded of their presence through phone calls, texts and messages on Facebook.
Before we even left Salelologa Church we were given donations for our walk. It was a beautiful feeling to see people running, walking or even dancing from their homes to greet us on the road and offer donations for our walk. As people drove past us, they stopped their cars or slowed down and threw money out their car windows. We had generous donations of coins, notes and cheques; but it was so amazing to see people smiling, cheering and clapping us on as we walked. We witnessed so much joy and giving along the way.
It felt like the whole island was united in spirit for this walk. Fr. Mosese kept in touch with the radio to notify people where we were and how the team was progressing around Savai’i. Fr. Mosese and the team were welcomed and supported by so many people throughout the island, especially from the Catholic parishes and communities. They offered Fr. Mosese and the team words of encouragement, support and gifts. So many villages generously gave us coconuts, sandwiches, drinks and biscuits to keep us going on our walk. Wow! It was so touching to see people’s kindness and generosity. I learnt so much more about the family and friendship connections throughout the island and really got a taste for the community bond and networks in Savai’i.
We had sore feet, we were tired and we had walked more than 25km a day, but we all kept positive about our walk. We looked after each other and kept our spirits alive with music, talking, singing and laughing. Our journey together, saw us form friendships and relationships that are unique and special. One of the most important things I will always treasure and hold close to my heart after this walk, are the stories and conversations we had with one another along the way and the people who met and greeted us on the road.
Yes, this walk was about the money for a bus, but it was so much more about community and unity. We had so many people wanting to help us to achieve our goal in whatever ways they could. It was easy to feel the presence of God in the relationships we formed, and the challenging and beautiful moments of this walk. The presence of God is constantly found and felt in people, nature and places on the path of pilgrimage.
One of the highlights for me was the last day of the walk. We were met and greeted by many people at Tuisivi Hospital on the Saturday. The presence of students, staff and parents of Don Bosco High School, who walked with us for the last 15km of the walk, was overwhelming. I felt the power of love, joy and tremendous spirit from the whole community of Salelologa. We were welcomed so beautifully by the whole school community. Teachers had stayed up until late preparing food for us and decorating our school to welcome us home.
As we walked through the school gates, the clapping and cheering started and we felt such an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I felt an incredible sense of belonging to this community and it was touching to be embraced and welcomed home. We have raised over $100 000 Tala for this bus, but the spirit and joy of the community involved is still present. To me, it emphasised the importance of working together in unity to achieve your dreams, with the help of prayer and the power of love.