Our Volunteers: Marlene Rasmussen volunteering in Kiribati

Anginako Tetoa, Br Don Teixeira, Mwea Taveti & Temakoiti Tatoa - CEO staffDiocese of Tarawa and Nauru, Kiribati

The Diocese of Tarawa provides services to over half of the 112, 000 population of Kiribati. This tiny Pacific nation faces many challenges over the coming years.

As rising sea levels reduce the already meagre land area of its coral atolls, the population calling this nation home is steadily increasing. Kiribati’s limited agriculture may also be affected, leading to poor nutrition as the dependence on imported goods increases.

The growing population has lead to increased pollution in their lagoons and reduced the sustainability of its subsistence fishing industry. International fishing interests are also damaging limited fish resources, as well as increasing prostitution among girls desperate to reduce their poverty. The HIV infection rate is increasing steadily as a result.

The Catholic Diocese of Tarawa in Kiribati runs a variety of education, health and social welfare services for the people of Kiribati aimed at reducing the impact of the above problems. As the major religion of the population, it has the capacity to educate, care for and support a great number of people.

Palms Australia received a request from the Bishop of Tarawa & Nauru for an experienced and qualified person to train and assist in the role of a Diocesan Bursar.

Marlene Rasmussen

Marlene RasmussenMarlene, from Toowoomba, has worked as a Bursar at the Diocese of Tarawa and Nauru since June 2009. She works closely with local staff in sharing financial management skills.

Marlene had previously ran a business of her own, and was deeply involved in her community through various activities. She had also been Treasurer of her community Neighbourhood Watch for 15 years and has previously volunteered as a community teacher for 12 years in her local school. She was also President of the District Girl Guides.

Amongst the many wonderful things that referees had said about Marlene are that she is ‘an inspiration to people’ and that she is ‘very caring’ and ‘generous’. These comments have been echoed time and again by the community in Tarawa. They speak warmly of her openness and how she has established the best relationships with co-workers through her willing service and loving care. Though Marlene’s guidance the Diocese now has a stronger profile among international NGOs and supporters.

An Outer Island Experience- Marakei, Kiribati by Marlene Rasmussen

September 15, 2014

the SeawallWednesday 27th August dawned as a normal day, off to work for a  busy day in the office.   At a minute’s notice I caught the flight to Marakei. Sue needed my car to collect her paint; she collected the paint and dropped me off at the airport.

A truck was waiting to pick me up. On arrival at the presbytery Fr  Patrick asked me where I wanted to stay at the presbytery or the convent. I chose to stay with the sisters.  I took mosquito coils, toilet paper, water etc. My bed had a very thin mattress with a mosquito net which was comfortable. The generator was turned off at 2.30 am nightly. I was impressed with the use of solar. The toilet worked sometimes.  The first night the parishioners held a wonderful welcome ceremony.  The food was all local with the only purchase being rice. There were basins of fresh sardines, shell fish, tuna, milk fish, flying fish,  lobsters, basins of  land crabs (the waiter cracked them for us), pork, babui, bananas and pawpaws. There was local fruit berry punch, toddy (sap from the coconut) and toddy boiled to syrup added with water for cordial. With the syrup, they made a delicious sweet dessert. Syrup coconut cream and grated coconut and rice. I brought some teabags and powdered milk with me. They had visitors from many islands; at every meal more than 70 adults were catered for.  I did enjoy the fresh raw sardines and the land crabs.

The celebration was to open St Monica’s maneaba (Meeting place).  I worked hard with this project to manage the funds through three Taiwan Grants.  The maneaba was built by a local builder who has never been recognised. It is by far the best built building I’ve seen in 5 ½ years. I shall invite the Taiwan Ambassador to inspect it.  Many musical groups came from Betio village on Tarawa. The adult group gave international performances while St Patricks College’s students at Betio entertained us with many exceptional musical items including rap dances. Many of the songs sang were composed by themselves.

Friday many local people were Confirmed. There are no Catholic Schools on Marakei.  Another celebration with the candidates and their families was enjoyed. I fell in love with the children. Each morning I walked with the local children. After the Confirmation a lady took me on her motor bike for a tour of this round Island with a lagoon in the centre. It took 2 hours. We stopped at the villages as we went around; I wanted to see their needs. All the thatches were neat and well-constructed.
The people were very organised. Every meal had the same food maybe cooked a little different. All this food was from the land or sea, there was no cost involved.
Saturday was the big celebration, all villagers attended with bunches of bananas and basins of food. All villagers danced and sang, in brightly coloured local costumes – mainly red and orange. An elderly man asked me to dance and I had to oblige, they all laughed at me. I was given a mat, necklace, bangle and earrings all made from local materials. Later I climbed on a back of a truck for a lift to the airstrip. I saw a small cargo ship with bags of rice unload. It looked like the 1900s.

The plane left at 12.30 pm Saturday  and I arrived at Bonriki airport at 12.50.  On my arrived, one dead rat in the middle of my lounge floor, and Taraua ran into the back of my car (luckily no damage).
I needed a break away from the office and I enjoyed Marakei immensely.

Marlene with children of Ambo, Kiribati

Marlene with children of Ambo, Kiribati

Since 2009 Marlene Rasmussen from QLD has volunteered for the Diocese of Tarawa and Nauru, Kiribati. As bursar and trainer, Marlene is sharing her extensive financial management and business skills with the local diocesan staff to improve delivery of education, health and social welfare services in a country struggling with population growth and land loss due to rising sea levels.


Six months to go

November 25, 2011

This proved very successful; hence, the Diocese Office will be healthier when I leave in May 2012 and with the training provided there is every hope that this health will be sustained into the future.

Click here to read the full article

Letters from Kiribati

September 20, 2010

God only knows how and why I put my name on the Palms list to become a volunteer. It has been the happiest time of my life and a very rewarding challenge.

Click here to read the full article

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Population: 105,088

Area: 811 sq. km.

Median Age: 20.6

Literacy: 94 %

Languages: I-Kiribati, English

The Republic of Kiribati is an island nation located in the central Pacific Ocean. The country’s 33 atolls are scattered over 3,500,000 square kilometres. The isolation of Kiribati has led to a unique culture, rich in singing and dancing. Family and community are central to this traditional fishing society, but life does not always match […]

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To evangelise is to make the Kingdom of God present in our world … to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor. - Pope Francis (Joy of the Gospel 176, 188)