After a typical series of Solomon-style delays, we arrived in Honiara early on Sunday afternoon and were met at the airport by Fr. Ambrose, a Salesian priest who has been a good friend to the Marianists and Project MAST since our first visit to the Solomons in 2003. We settled in at the Don Bosco Technical Institute where our next program would be held beginning on Monday morning for Catholic teachers from around the Honiara area. The teachers in this area have been very highly motivated by earlier MAST Programs and a Catholic Teachers Sodality has been organized for the past few years. We were told to expect a good size crowd for our workshop, even though the dates included Solomon Islands Independence Day on July 7th.
Monday morning at 8 AM (American time!) the hall was ready and our registration table was set up. Teachers began arriving, and arriving, and arriving. Two busloads came from town, and then a pick-up truck filled to the brim with teachers from St. Joseph's School in near-by Tenaru. By 9am when we were ready to begin our program over 130 teachers had registered, the biggest crowd ever for a MAST workshop. Among the participants were quite a few teachers who had taken part at the very first teachers program that Bro. Ken and I gave at Kukum in 2003. There were teachers from all around the Archdiocese of Honiara. A dozen teachers had made the long journey from the island of Makira, famed for the quality of its bananas.
Happily, the hall at Don Bosco was large and well-ventilated so the crowd could be accommodated comfortably. There was even an excellent sound system so we did not have to shout to be heard by the large group, a good thing since the school is just across the road from the airport. We used a similar program to the themes we featured in Gizo, and the teachers responded very well. Cypriano Nu'ake, the Catholic education secretary, and Sr. Seselia, the moderator of the Catholic Teachers' Sodality, had asked us to speak on the topic of conversion. We used a small pamphlet based on St. Benedict's call for a change of life and change of heart. The group sharing was so intense that the teachers even delayed lunch time for more discussion.
Monday and Tuesday were full days from 8 in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon. Wednesday, the 32nd Solomon Independence Day, we began with a wrap-up session followed by Mass and a closing program. As always, everyone looked forward to receiving his or her certificate, but I was busy to the last moment "calligrahying" all the names! After a round of speeches and lunch, the teachers ended with a sports tournament. Teachers old and young enjoyed a friendly round of basketball and volleyball. The emphasis was much more on fun than on competition and peals of laughter and cheers resounded through the hall.
We celebrated Independence with a pot-luck supper from among all the residents of the Don Bosco compound. Besides us and Fr. Ambrose there were two volunteers from Australia, Carol and Jessica, several of the young teachers from the school and visitors from around the country who were attending a media seminar. No hot dogs or sparklers, but we shared "independence" stories and customs from India, Australia, Papua New Guinia, and the US and toasted the "peace, joy, progress and prosperity" that the national anthem of the Solomons hopes for the young country.
Thursday morning we flew to Auki -- right on schedule this time-- in Solomon Airlines 8-seater plane. This is like flying in a van with wings and I'm always amazed when it can take to the air and then stay there. Fr. Tom was praying the rosary during the half-hour flight, so we were truly flying on a wing and a prayer. Bishop Chris met us at the airport, along with the usual contingent of chickens and pigs.
Today, we're settled into Fanulama, Bishop's Chris's house, and enjoying being at our Solomon "home" for a few days. On Sunday we're off to the southern part of the island of Malatia for our next program.