Posted by Br Gary Wison
on 1 June 2021
Ever wanted to work in a remote place with a rich Melanesian culture, spectacular waterfalls and tropical gardens? One could try Enga Province, in the north Highlands of PNG, where many do not speak English or Tok Pisin. Aileen Fapiou Saleu is a Catholic teacher and proud Lasallian, there at Holy Cross Primary School, Pompabus. This Catholic school shows the impact Christianity has had on Papua New Guinea as a nation of sometimes remote tribes, first colonized by European powers in the nineteenth century. (In fact, German De La Salle Brothers established a brief mission in Vunapope, present New Britain, from 1914 to 1921). Other Catholic and Protestant missionaries had come in the 1880's to spread the Christian Gospel.
In an interview, Aileen explained that her school of 400 students has 15 predominantly Catholic teachers, in "a Catholic area (that is) inviting and welcoming". The school is quite well-resourced, with teachers using their mobile phones for preparation for class. While there are 50 students per class, the school doesn't suffer from teacher absenteeism. She is the sole 'Lasallian teacher' but the majority of staff were inducted in Lasallian spirituality "but yet to see commitment".
Aileen has taught at Holy Cross for two years, as a Senior Teacher and has a delegated duty as Assistant Religious Co-ordinator. Overall, she sees that youth in the nation are challenged by peer pressure to be wayward socially. Family issues include broken marriages and some acceptance of polygamy. Youth living with relatives only "are most times abused, and this affects their learning".
Teachers can struggle with "lack of support of learning materials, not having a supportive (School) Managementproblems with salaries (unnecessary deductions)" . as well as family and marriage problems and problem students.
As a convinced Lasallian, Aileen's history is long and enriched. "Being a Lasallian means so much to me. Being one instilled with faithcontinues to ignite in me personally, and guides me in my daily life(It) helps my own children at home, and those in my class and school, not forgetting the vulnerable children. My call as a Lasallian (has led me)to see the life of St John Baptist as a guide to living the gospel."
Where does this rich inspiration come from? Aileen mentions, seemingly proudly, that she is one of the pioneer Lasallian youths that were inducted by Br. Ignatius Kennedy (RIP), the founder of the Lasallian Family in Papua New Guinea. Br. Ignatius "inducted me into a great family of teachers, who followed the footsteps of St John Baptist De La Salle. He lived that life fully as a De La Salle Brother when serving in PNG. He was a dawn to each brother (and sister) and his faith was tremendous and great. He had time for all of us, and was firm and gentle in his decisions. As one of his first youths, he inspired me into living the Lasallian spirituality. He was a living saint to us".
As an assistant to the Area Co-ordinator in the local Lasallian Family, Aileen aims to "revitalise and energize effective teaching and learning". Her action starts with living in the conscious presence of God. She reads about the Founder and attends Family gatherings and retreats. She herself initiates Lasallian formation through the above means. She promotes Lasallian youth ministry, empowering youth in the school through teaching prayer etc. Her own constant prayer, she says, helps her answer the real challenges in Enga. These include lack of response to communication with other teachers, lack of meeting attendance and a lack of resource material. The latter includes the need for crucifixes, rosaries, bibles and statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as material on the Founder's life and thought.
She has been able to inspire her family so that all her children are now 'Lasallian Youths'. Her husband, who is not a teacher or educator, but a medical lab technologist, is supportive towards the Mission by providing funding, assisting with documentation, and also attending gatherings with her and their children.
"My call as a Lasallian is truly a blessing to me and my family. It also guides me, and thas taught me the 12 virtues of the good teacher (from De La Salle) to the students. It often reminds me on how to look at each child in class. The job I have is not just a paid job but a vocationI live by the Lasallian Values in teaching my students, identifying vulnerable students. Continuously working together and by association with my Lasallian lay partners, Communities of Brothers and the communities (we create)".