Malaysia sent a contingent of about 100 delegates to the 7th Asian Youth Day (AYD7) in Indonesia and 50 were sent to the Archdiocese of Palembang (KAPAL) for the Days in the Diocese (DID) from 30th July until 1st August. I was one of them.

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Malaysia delegates arrived at Palembang airport for Days in diocese

The moment we arrived at the Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II International Airport in Palembang, I could tell the AYD committee and parishes in Palembang were so happy to receive us. Our first stop was at St Peter’s Church where all the delegates were gathered. We arrived before noon and was there until the Opening Mass and Opening Ceremony in the evening. It was only that night that we were brought to our respective live-in parishes and handed over to our foster family.

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My family

I was assigned to the family of Bpk Andreas Sutarman from St Stefanus Parish, together with another delegate from the Diocese of Sibolga. We now had parents and 2 siblings (a sister and a brother) in Palembang and another sister in Jogjakarta as their elder daughter was studying there.

While in Palembang, I had the opportunity to interact with the local communities within my host family, host parish and the community at large. My fondest memories is how caring my foster parents were. I just wish I had more time to spend with them. We would arrive home late every day, after a long day full of activities, so I would be very tired and sleepy but my foster dad would already be waiting to take us home and my foster mom would prepare hot water for shower and hot tea before I go to bed. And in the morning, my foster mom would prepare a lovely breakfast before sending us to the neighbour’s house so we can carpool with 2 other delegates (from Medan and India) to our parish.

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Romo Tugiyo & Pastor Alex

I also loved having daily mass and prayers at and meeting the priests and seminarian of St Stefanus, especially Romo Tugiyo. It was also a blessing to meet Pastor Alex from Medan, who was also having his Days in Diocese in the same parish. What truly inspired me was the youth, the OMK of St Stefanus, who really did their best to take care of us during the whole program. A special thank you my dear brother, Andreas Jona Situmorang, for being our personal driver during the Days in Diocese.

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Outside of St Stefanus parish, I really enjoyed the exposures to the Catholic Church’s presence especially in healthcare and education, specifically the Charitas Hospital and the minor seminaries, schools and universities which were run by the Church. I was so impressed that Charitas Hospital have their own dance crew (see videos at the bottom of this post) – but what was more inspiring was how the Charitas Hospital was formed and how they contribute to the church mission in caring for the sick, regardless of religion.

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At St Paul Minor Seminary; seminarians in blue jacket

I also really enjoyed the visit to St Paul Minor Seminary. It was my first time to visit a Minor Seminary so it was really interesting to meet these young men who are already answering the call to the priesthood by being in a seminary. I loved talking to them and listening to their stories of how they decided to enter the seminary and what seminary life was like for them. I pray that these fine young men all become priests and will visit the church in Malaysia one day.

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AYD delegates learning to make “pempek”

Finally, I also acquired the taste for Palembang’s “Pempek” (or “empek-empek”) and “Tekwan” among others. Honestly, if it had not been for AYD, I probably would have never have gone to Palembang and would miss out on the lovely food, the rich culture and especially the warmth of the people there.

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Some of the committee members for DIDKAPAL2017 (only those from my parish in this one)

And so, my deepest appreciation to all of the committee for DIDKAPAL2017 for making our stay in Palembang memorable and we hope to one day return the favour should you visit us in Malaysia.

God bless!

Note: The above was a testimony I wrote for the DIDKAPAL2017 organisers.

And for those who have not been to Palembang, do consider visiting it in 2018 when they co-host the 18th Asian Games alongside Jakarta!

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And…as promised above, the Charitas Dance Crew!!! Enjoy!

Part 1

Part 2

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The 7th Asian Youth Day (AYD7) in Indonesia concluded on 6th August 2017 with the Closing Mass that was held at the Airforce Complex in Jogjakarta. The theme for AYD7 was “Joyful Asian Youth! Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia” and a week prior to that, thousands of young people from 20 Asian countries (Korea, Laos, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Macau, Timor Leste, Vietnam, Mongolia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, China, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Brunei and Cambodia) had gathered together with the young people of Indonesia for a spiritual and cultural experience that would not be forgotten.

Malaysia sent a contingent of about 100 delegates and 14 were from Miri Diocese. For the first part of the program which was the Days in the Diocese, the 14 were sent to the Archdiocese of Palembang.

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Malaysia delegates arrived at Palembang airport for Days in diocese.

From 30th July until 1st August, the delegates were assigned to host families that belonged to the many different parishes (namely, St Stefanus, St Mary Katedral, St Maria Ratu Rosario, St Francis De Sales, St Paul, St Yoseph, St Sacred Heart and St Petrus) in the Archdiocese. While there, we interacted with the local communities within our host family, host parish and the community at large, with exposures to the Catholic Church’s presence especially in healthcare and education, specifically the Charitas Hospital and the minor seminaries, schools and universities which were run by the Church. We also acquired the taste for “Pempek” (or “empek-empek”) which is a savoury fishcake delicacy from Palembang, made of fish and tapioca.

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Delegates from Miri diocese show their tradtional costume during JOYFUL gathering in Palembang

But it was during the 2nd part of AYD7 that saw all the delegates from the 20 Asian countries gather in Jogjakarta for the Asian Youth Day “proper” from 2nd August until 6th August 2017. This was the time when the delegates were truly exposed to the wonderfulness that is Indonesia, especially in terms of its multicultural and multireligious community. There were opportunities for inter-religious dialogue when young people of other faiths journeyed together with the delegates during the cultural exposures to Sant’Egidio School of Peace (in the squatter area), Mangunan Elementary School, Traditional Art Festival, St Peter Canisi Minor Seminary, Tunggal Hati Seminary and Pencak Silat, SAV Puskat (a Non-Profit Organisation owned by Catholics and run by Islams) and Inklusi Centre Bhakti Negeri Kachamatan Karanganom. A few of the delegates even had the opportunity to experience first-hand of how it was like to be a patient at Rumah Sakit Panti Rapih.

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Miri diocese delegates in JOGJAKARTA

Overall, the delegates were all very much impressed by the multicultural diversity and religious tolerance and harmony in Indonesia. This was evident in the support given by the government to the AYD7 Coordinators to run the week-long program, be it in terms of accommodation, logistics and even healthcare. No expenses were spared to ensure that the delegates, especially those from outside the country, had a wonderful experience throughout. There is simply too much to be able to be shared in one simple article as such we would be more than joyful to share with you our experiences in person! Just simply ask away when you see us around, we would love to tell you more!

And, if you are interested to join the next AYD, keep your schedule open: the next Asian Youth Day will be in India in 2020!
– the AYD7 delegates from Miri Diocese.

Note: The above was a sharing on behalf of the delegates from Miri Diocese for the Diocese of Miri Facebook Page.

For more stories and photos, you can check out the albums below:

AYD7 Jogjakarta, Indonesia (Days in the Diocese in Palembang)

AYD7: Day 1

AYD7: Day 2

AYD7: Day 3

AYD7: Day 4

AYD7: Day 5 (Final Day)

 

It was year 2001, May*.

Fresh out of highschool, I stepped foot into a local university – MARA University of Technology / University Technology MARA (UiTM) along with thousands of others at the Sarawak Branch, specifically at Samarahan Campus, in Kuching, Sarawak.

That’s where I met Galvin.

Always a fun-loving and jovial person to be around, with a positive attitude and a boisterous laugh, he quickly became a friend – so quick that I don’t even remember how it happened. We were taking different courses and therefore were not classmates, but we were both Catholics and belonged to the Young Catholics Undergraduates (YCU) community – which was more like a family – in UiTM Samarahan Campus. Our much awaited activity every semester was the Singai Camp, where we would spend a spirit-filled weekend at the Catholic Memorial Pilgrimage Centre (CMPC), located at the Slope of Mount Singai, Kampung Tajong Singai, Bau. The weekend would consist mainly of Mass, Sacrement of Reconciliation, Counselling sessions, Talks by invited speakers, Praise & Worship, Prayers (eg. Taize) and of course, fellowship among our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Apart from the Singai Camp, there were weekly gatherings (with Praise & Worship, Bible Sharing/Talks etc and Fellowship) and also main activities like the Christmas Caroling and Final Exam Blessing Mass.

I left Samarahan Campus for the main campus in Shah Alam, Selangor in 2004, thus leaving YCU behind – physically but never spiritually or emotionally. I was and always will be a YCU alumni and be part of YCU Family. That is why, even after my days at YCU, whenever we would bump into fellow YCU members even long after we physically left YCU, the bond is still there.

Forward a few years, we were both already working, neither in Kuching. At that time, I was working in Brunei and him in Sibu. Since I was in Sibu at one time, we met up for a quick catch up at Farley Foodcourt (of course) in Sibu. After that, it got a bit fuzzy for me. I believe it was a few years later that I found out that he went to Taize, France and then entered seminary (or was it vice versa) but I do remember visiting him while he was in St Peter’s College, the seminary in Kuching once.

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In Kuching, 2012 (he was already a Seminarian then)

Actually, I remember it vividly as it was quite an awkward experience for me, as a lady, to visit him, a man, in a seminary. We were sitting in the canteen (is that what it’s called, Gal, err, Fr Gal?) and when his fellow seminarians or formators would pass by he would wave to them and introduce me as his friend… and I would give an awkward wave back to them. He’s the only seminarian (now priest) I had ever visited in a seminary. Hahaha.

So of course, I would be at his Ordination!

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23.04.2017 – Diaconate Ordination of Deacon Galvin

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22.09.2017 – Sacerdotal Ordination of Rev. Fr. Galvin

I am used to having priests becoming my friends, but this is the first time I have a friend who is now a priest! 😍🙏

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Congratulations once again dear friend, on your priestly ordination and on this new journey in your priesthood.

Your ordination is just the beginning of the blessings that He will pour out on you, your family and loved ones and all those around you – for you and through you. I pray that you be blessed continually in your ministry.

And as Pope Francis and AB Simon Poh mentioned: “Be a Shepherd that smells like his Sheep / Jadilah Gembala Berbau Domba”

P.S. Hope to see you visit the sheep in Bintulu one day. Once again, Félicitations!!! 😊 #ycufamily

*sorry, no photo as that was pre-Facebook period (shocking!)

Today is Ash Wednesday.

And so, Lent begins.

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Weeks before Lent began, I was struggling with what I would give up and take up this year. Read articles, watched talks online and discerned about it and then, one line (can’t remember which article it was from) jumped out at me.

“If you’re not struggling [with your Lenten challenge], then you’re doing it wrong.”

That was disconcerting.

For a few years now, I’d given up meat for the whole of Lent.

And social media.

And most recently, rice.

It was challenging for maybe the first few days or week, but it was something I could do relatively easily. So does that mean I’m doing my Lenten challenge wrong?

Guess it’s time to up the ante…

So this is how my 2017 Lent will go:

GIVE UP

I will continue with the above but will add on 2 more items:

  1. Giving up unnecessary chats on whatsapp
  2. Giving up negative people and negativity

The latter was prompted by recent events and I was also challenged by this video by Fr Mike Schmitz:

To be unoffendable – now that’s a challenge indeed.

TAKE UP

Take up prayer – more consciously and intentionally.

Specifically,

  1. Go to Mass (everyday that it is available)
  2. Rosary prayer (everyday) – I can already forsee this as my main challenge in prayer…
  3. Read/listen to spiritual books/audio and the bible (daily readings and reflections on them) everyday
  4. Personal Adoration at the Chapel, at least once a week

 

Pretty confident about the giving up bit, not as much for the taking up though.

That’s why I am sharing it here…so that by the end of Lent, this will keep me accountable.

Gulp.

 

Well, Have a Blessed Lent all!!!

 

The Spirit is with me and I am one with the Spirit.

We made our way to White Sands without any problem. The sun was high above us and the sky clear when we got there. There is an open space where we could leave the car and from there it was a few minutes walk to their hut. Wearing shorts, the long grasses tickled our legs as we made our way on the short pathway of trampled weed to the now familiar wood-and-zinc hut. A few pieces of planks were strewn throughout parts of the pathway which makes for an easier trek, especially since it was heavily raining that morning and parts of the pathway were covered in puddles of water.

She warmly welcomed us into the hut, which was raised a few feet above the ground on wooden stilts. 6 beautiful smiling faces of her 6 young children welcomed us as we entered and sat down, excluding the youngest who was asleep in a swing-cradle. They were expecting us.

I still remember the first time I met them 3 months ago… This time, it was a belated visit as I had been silently meaning to go back there ever since that afternoon in November, even more so over the recent Christmas season…

Previously, they had been told to vacate the squatter area but as of this visit, they do not know yet when (if ever). Hopefully, at least not until the government-assisted housing for them is completed, or until they have a better place to go. Apparently, their neighbour, the elderly couple whom we also visited in November, had since been taken in by their enstranged children – hopefully for the better as the old man was paralyzed waist-down and his condition got worse prior to the move… In any case, that meant the population of White Sands is now down to 11 families from the previous 12.

Meanwhile, the children were busy entertaining themselves with the goods we brought with us. I vividly remember the children’s ages from my first visit but this time, I had a name to go with them. Then, 10-months-old would now be 1-year-old Florena and 3 y.o. Kissina, 4 y.o. Kissima, 6 y.o. Catalina, 10 y.o. Wilson, (I forgot the 11-year-old’s name so I’ll just refer to him as Owen for now) and, 17 y.o. Sandra.

We had brought with us, among necessities like rice and eggs, a box of assorted drinks and treats (jelly, sweets, biscuits, chocolate, candy, etc.) and this made for a great game of “finders’ keepers” among them – each hiding their “treasure” in their shirt, away from the hands of their other siblings. I was amused by their antics and at the same time saddened that they could not have these simple treats as easily as most children their age.

Owen was the one who was hiding away from us on our first visit – the one who punched the wall when Sandra said he was disabled [mentally]. Being able to have a closer look at him this time, indeed, he is more special than his siblings in a way but nothing a specialised approach to education cannot handle. Among all the assorted drinks (mostly carton drinks) in the box, he discovered a can of soft-drink and triumphantly exclaimed: “F&N!!!” but it was his brother, Wilson, who discovered the prize candy – a big heart-shaped rainbow-coloured lollipop, which he promptly licked (still with the transparent plastic wrapper on) which I figured was his way of marking possession, before promptly hiding it in his shirt.

The younger girls, Kissina, Kissima and Catalina, were equally adorable when they discovered treats they liked, but they were more often just giggling or laughing at the antics of the boys. Only Sandra, the oldest one of them there was silent, fiddling with some fancy plastic wrappers that the treats came in with her hands, and occasionally looked up at her siblings with a small smile forming over the sides of her lips. I could only wonder what must be going through her mind…

All this was happening in the background while we were catching up with their mother, Lia:

It was good to know that she had found a job at a coffee shop just walking distance from their home. She works from 8 to 5 and while she’s at work, Sandra is there to look after the younger kids. They are still waiting for the children’s identity cards, which they were told would be ready in a few months. Having that would greatly increase the chance of a proper education for the children.

“Love!” exclaimed a small voice, suddenly stealing our attention. It turned out to be one of the younger girls, probably Catalina or Kissina/Kissima (even their Mom had trouble telling who was whom), and she was referring to the big heart-shaped rainbow-coloured lollipop that Wilson discovered earlier, which was now in her hands. The plastic wrapper was off now and she was visibly enjoying the treat. It was then that I realised that instead of hogging the lollipop all to himself (as I had thought earlier), Wilson shared it with the rest of his siblings! Oh bless these children.

“I love you!” she then continued, as if to complete a sentence with her earlier word.

“Aaaaawww….”

We were suitably impressed but when my friend asked her to repeat what she had said, she just said “Snack” or “Candy”.

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We were praying together with the family before bidding our goodbyes when Florena woke up from her afternoon nap – promptly crying when she saw us until Wilson took her out from the swing-cradle and into his arms. In spite of that, it was, I believe, a fruitful and memorable visit.

No, it was more than that.

It was a second Hello.

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The 40-year-old woman warmly welcomed us into her home – an illegal small hut, made of wood and zinc, that was self-built on a small piece of land that was not their own. The interior was surprisingly spacey, airy, and bright, with sunlight streaming in through the front door and a small side window. A few of us opted to remain outside, fearing the hut, which was raised a few feet above the ground on wooden stilts, would collapse under our collective weight. This hut was 1 out of 12 others in the squatter area referred to as “White Sands”.

(In retrospect, we weren’t even supposed to be in this particular hut. There were about 20 of us, working young adults from our church community and the original plan was to bring food supplies and daily necessities for an elderly couple who lived in the hut in front of theirs; but a day before our planned visit, God put her in our path and so we decided to visit her as well – divine intervention I believe, as because of it, we got even more out of the visit than what we came to give. At least that is how I feel.)

6 pairs of innocent eyes looked at us with curiosity as we stepped inside their home. They belonged to the faces of her 6 beautiful young children, who were bright-eyed and obviously smiling at us, even though they seemed a little shy. They were all seated on the plastic mat that covered the wooden floor (their mother too joined them) so we got down and walked on our knees, shaking their hands and saying “Hi” to all of them as we also sat down. (We were from the same race and spoke the same language so communication was not a problem.) The eldest child there was a teenage girl, and she was holding her youngest sibling, a 10-months-old baby girl!

I sat next to the teen and asked for permission before I carried her baby sister in my arms. The baby didn’t have a shirt on and she had rashes around her neck because of the heat. She was pretty light to carry and a few of us took turns carrying her – until she cried, at which point we promptly returned her to the sister.

Questions upon questions kept popping into my head, as I tried to understand what I was seeing with my own eyes. We learned that the woman (the mother) had been unemployed for the past 2 months after her last contract finished so here she was, staying in a squatter area, raising these kids on her own as a single mom. How did they come to be here?

I got extremely curious especially about the ages of the children. Apart from the teenage daughter, most seemed to be around 10 years old and below. Since I was seated closest to the teen, I decided to engage her in conversation as their mother was talking with some others in our group.

Me: “So you’re the eldest?”

Teen: “No, I’m the second.”

Me: “Oh, where is the eldest?”

Teen: “She’s married and went with her husband.”

Me: “How old is she? And how old are you?”

Teen: “She is 18. I am 17.”

We tried to find out more about the older sister but it appears they have lost touch. She did not know where their older sister was.

I pointed to her younger brother sitting across from me. “And he is the third?”

“No, the third is disabled [mentally]…” she replied and pointed to the wall behind her, where no sooner had she said so, someone punched the wall behind her a few times.

BAM. BAM. BAM.

“That’s him”, she said, affirming his presence from behind the wall. (He was most likely in the kitchen area. A little later, he did walk past part of the kitchen that was visible from where I sat.)

“And how old is he?”

“11”

Once again, I looked to her younger brother sitting across from me. “So next is you, right? And how old are you?”

“10”, he replied happily.

Then I looked to the little girl seated to my right, who was leaning against her mother.

“And after him is her?” I asked their mother. “How old is she?”

“6, I think”, said the mother. “I need to check their card. I can’t quite remember.”

“And next is these two?” I asked, referring to another two little girls seated near her. They seemed about the same age so I couldn’t tell who was older. One had been holding on tightly to a plastic bag with a chocolate bar inside that was given to her by one of us. The other had a pacifier in her mouth.

“She’s 4 and she’s 3,” the mother pointed them out respectively.

“And the youngest is 10 months old.” I mentally listed them in my head. “10 months, 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 17, 18 years old. 8 Children! Oh. My. Goodness.”

And these children – NONE of them go to school!!! Even the 17-year-old had stopped schooling to help look after the younger ones.

I find myself holding back tears as I pondered the future of these children. Flashbacks to when I was their age only made it worse. Education is important. Without it, how will the fate of this family turn around for the better?

Why are they not in school? Apart from financial reasons, apparently their mother did not have an identity card – it was as if she was a foreigner in her own country – making it difficult for her children to go to school too. Fortunately, on the day before we arrived, she had just received her identity card and applied for the government’s help for a proper house. Hopefully, things get better for this family in the near future. Including education for the children. Especially when they have been told to vacate the squatter area within this few months.

Soon it was time to leave, so we prayed together with the family before bidding goodbye. I gave their mother a hug as we left and she was visibly sobbing… I had tears in my eyes. It was with a heavy heart that we left them. I felt there was so many things I wanted to do to help that family. It was overwhelming, to say the least, and I cannot stop thinking about them.

Once again, I come to realise, that when giving and helping others in need, and by it bringing Christ to them and changing their lives (even if in a only very small way), without realising it, our lives too are changed by these encounters.

Abba Father, I know you are watching over that family. Please look after them. I take comfort in your words…

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”(Matthew 6:26)

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It was a little after 10 at night. After circling the block a few times, he parked the car and led us in prayer.

Then, we walked a little bit up the road where a few women were sitting around. He approached one woman and asked if we could talk with her. She said yes. We sat down.

He did most of the talking while I observed, half in disbelief of what we were doing. She wasn’t very receptive it seemed of what we had to say and promptly got up and left. He turned to me and asked, “Are we done? Do we continue?”

“I’m just following your lead,” I told him for what felt like the countless time that night.

We got up and walked further up the block – and came across 3 women seated near each other. All were wearing tshirts and jeans. Nothing scanty.

“Hi,” he began, addressing the nearest and youngest of the 3 women. Another woman, a more older one asked: “What are you guys looking for? A hotel?”

No no”, I replied and from that moment on, suddenly found myself in a conversation with her.

It turned out we were from the same village. We were of the same race and spoke the same language. She had been married and divorced twice. She has 3 children, all of whom now have their own families. They did ask her to come live with them but she did not want to be a burden to them. They give her money but it’s barely enough for her to pay rent and utilities. She works at a coffee shop nearby. (And when she was telling me all this, I kept thinking: No way is she a prostitute. She just works at a coffee shop and just happen to be chilling by the shophouses at almost 11 at night. Until she said:) “My children don’t know I’m doing this (read: prostituting)”

This was when it got very real for me. Here was this woman in front of me, who is just a year older than my own mother (!) and she was telling me how difficult her life was…how she ended up where she is presently. Who because she didn’t want to leave her house, did not want to burden her children, opted to live on her own and prostituting was how she earned a living – just waiting for death to arrive. She had been in prison 3 times, beaten and framed by “friends in the trade”.

I could no longer contain myself and started to shed tears as I told her that her children would never allow her to do what she was doing if they knew. “I am speaking as a daughter and if you were my mother”…and I asked if I could hug her. She seemed surprised at first but returned my embrace as I hugged her tight, feeling such remorse that such a life can happen to a mother…all the while the question “what if this was your mother?” kept repeating inside my head.

Here the 2 of us were, my friend and I, thinking that we were bringing Christ to them and changing their lives (which may be true) without realising that our lives would also be changed by these encounters.

We left her with the message that “God loves her and that her children care for her and so do we”. She grabbed my hand and held it to her cheeks when we said goodbye….

I was speechless and in tears as we walked back to the car. Never did I imagine, that someone my mother’s age, would be prostituting to make ends meet…

When you put faces and names and stories into the word “prostitute”, life as you know it, changes. It is an eye-opening experience for me and it certainly begs me to question myself: “What can I, a simple person, do for her? For others like her?”

I do not have one final and concrete answer. But I do know this. “This”, what we did tonight, cannot just be a one-time thing.

In the words of Mother Theresa: “If you cannot feed a hundred people, feed just one” & “not everyone can do great things but we can all do small things with great love”.