Vivid memories

The Cardoner Network, the young adult arm of the Australian Jesuits, held a reunion fundraiser against the backdrop of the opening night of Vivid Sydney.

 JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH 

The Cardoner Network was originally launched in 2010 as The Cardoner Project, in response to the desire of young adults for Catholic faith formation, engagement in service to those in need and the building of community in the Ignatian tradition. In 2022, it was renamed The Cardoner Network and missioned as the umbrella under which the young adult ministry of the Australian Jesuits would sit. 

All photos of the reunion fundraiser by Timothy Sirotich / The Cardoner Network

Josh Conlon, Cardoner immersion alumnus: 

(Josh graduated from St Aloysius’ College in 2015 and undertook an entire service year in Micronesia in 2016. He is currently a history teacher at Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview in Sydney.) 

I couldn’t believe what I’d signed up for. And I was thinking frantically, what can I possibly do to endure this? But I needn’t have bothered, because planning has no place in Micronesia. What did happen, though, is that I left the island of Chuuk with a thousand memories. I could tell you moments of pure magic.  

One, though, that is more vivid than just about any other is that last day of teaching. It involved Michael, my brother in humidity, whose mother, Jane Brennan, has had so much to do with the success of this enterprise and who has had every son go off to some far-flung border of the world to do whatever it is that we do. My brother in humidity and I walked down to our final day, and we delivered a barely coherent piece of instruction, and we relished the final moments with the remarkable young people to whom we had devoted our time.  

And when that little hand-rung bell sounded our final moment, those tiny beautiful young people lined up in single file with a handmade flower lei or a wreath made of shells, and they placed them over our necks. And we walked, weighed down by love and sadness, in flower and shell form. Then we got home. We looked at each other. We hugged each other. And then we picked the corner and we cried. We cried the tears, the soft and the gentle tears of overwhelmed hearts. It is a rare experience that brings emotion of that magnitude. 

 
Maliwan Kasetsukjai, who is widely regarded as a second mother to Cardoner’s Thailand volunteers: 

(Since 2012, when the Australian volunteers first arrived in Thailand, Maliwan has cared for, fed and housed between 80-100 young adult volunteers from Australia who live in the rural Huay Tong community for between one and three months.) 

Thanks to God, I can be here today and thank you to everyone who helped me come to Australia. I belong to a group of hill tribes known collectively as Karen. The eight tribes have their own language, their food is different and their lifestyle is different. Thank you very much to every family for sending their sons and daughters to volunteer in Huay Tong. In the beginning, it’s quite hard for them, especially the lifestyle, food and everything else. I have a refugee camp where I have poor kids, some of whom don’t have families. The first volunteers said the house looked very poor and that they didn’t know how they would live like this.  

I said to them, “This is life; real life. When you finish high school, you should learn what real life is, because in the future no one will look after you all the time. So you have to learn, you have to adapt, you have to understand and you have to look after yourself. The volunteers go to teach at the school. Our students are not scared of volunteers when they live with us in the communities and in the church, especially when volunteers go to the church. But after they finish, they have learnt about real life. I actually feel like I get a lot from them after they finish volunteering. When they go back to Australia, they fundraise through a lot of projects and they keep sending money every year. So thank you very much for everything, to all of you: parents, The Cardoner Network, Fr David, Fr Alan, Fr Ramesh and everyone who has helped us. 

This year I started to build greenhouses thanks to donations from Cardoner’s Thailand volunteers. Right now, I have 80 greenhouses. Around half the people in the village don’t have their own land. But because your donations make it possible to build a greenhouse, we are able to offer jobs to people in the village. They can grow their own produce in the greenhouses and after they sell it, I keep 10 baht (about 40 cents) for the refugee camp, and 15 baht (about 60 cents) for more greenhouses and maintaining the existing greenhouses. None of this would have happened without you. 

Brendan Kell, Cardoner staff member and immersion alumnus:

(Brendan graduated from St Aloysius’ in 2018 before spending a full year in Thailand in 2019. He has returned to Thailand multiple times.)

There are infinitely more stories that reflect the type of person Maliwan is. In 2019, when I served in Thailand, she had been asked by Fr Vinai, a Jesuit priest in Thailand who is also her brother, if she could take care of two kids from Myanmar. He just came to a doorway and basically said, “I’ve got two kids who have fled Myanmar. They don’t have any family. There are no funds to support them. Can you take them?”

Maliwan had no hesitation in accepting them. The kids’s names were Nim and Siripong. Nim was probably about 13 and while we didn’t know how old Siripong was, we thought she was about 10. They couldn’t speak Thai and the Karen dialect that they did speak was different from Maliwan’s, so they had a major problem in communicating with each other in words. But what I saw was similar to what I experienced when I first arrived – she showed them deep and everlasting love. It’s a love that does not depend on words, but is shown through actions.

For me – and I know this is true of every volunteer who has had the blessing of knowing you – what you’ve done is that you’ve changed our lives. Be it in small ways, be it in our attitude towards life, towards serving others, to guiding our family life or our careers, you, Maliwan, have touched all of our hearts and I love you, always.

Anna and Bruce Begbie:

(Their two sons, Josh and James, did separate volunteer stints in Vietnam and Thailand in the early days of Cardoner. Bruce served on the foundation committees and the Board for the first 10 years, with three of those years as chair.)

Anna: It’s been 12 years since our eldest son, Josh, was in the first group of four to live with and teach English to the gorgeous children in the village of Huay Tong in North Thailand. As a family, we were fortunate to visit and stay in the village in 2012 and of course, this is when we first met the wonderful Maliwan, who has been in our hearts ever since. Maliwan truly was a second mother to these young men. So I think I speak on behalf of all the mothers here whose sons were in northern Thailand. A huge thank you to Maliwan.

Bruce: Some of the best things in life happen when you’re not looking. And perhaps for our sons who progressed through this school here at Aloys and who were then exposed to a range of different opportunities to broaden their horizons. Fr Ross Jones SJ, Rector of Aloys, said – and I hope I’m quoting this correctly – “If you want to see your children grow up, you send them on the journey.”

Banner image of the Opera House during Vivid Sydney by eddyjohnstone, Canva.

 

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