Servite Sisters under the pump

04 Jun 2008

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
Catholic Religious orders have for centuries relied on Divine Providence, but for the Servite Sisters in Bayswater who give loving care to the children of refugees and Aboriginals, things are getting pretty tough.

A young mother, Emma, with Chanelle, 14 months, with another mother, Evelyn, with Sr Charla.

There are Servite Sisters working around Perth and Narrogin involved in teaching, nursing, pastoral care and Aboriginal apostolate. The Servite sisters also run a Childcare centre in Bayswater for children of migrants and disadvantaged families are in dire straights. Srs.Charla, Chitra and Candida are running the centre for three days a week.
They rent a huge block in Bayswater that could easily fit three homes on, from Homeswest. It has an office, classroom and playground.
On that block they run a licensed childcare service for children from two to six years of age for migrants from countries including Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, disadvantaged Aboriginal children and disadvantaged families who can’t send their kids to main-stream childcare centers in a centre called ‘Kora’. They do run, when funding allows, Adult Education and youth programs
Bayswater is a suburb on the rise where houses are already selling for over $500,000, and the Sisters have been under pressure for some time to move due to the value of the land.
The Sisters also face insurances and salaries and general running costs that total about $70,000 a year.
They get donations from the Archdiocese of Perth and occasional donations from schools like Chisholm, John XXIII and Servite Colleges and some primary schools who take part in fundraising programs, but this often covers a fraction of their costs. The Sisters themselves also run fundraising programs to meet the costs.
Two years ago the Sisters also had a series of break-ins, so Catholic Church Insurance helped them install bars on the windows.
Lotterywest has also been helpful, including providing a bus that the Sisters use to pick up the children. This enables the Sisters to interact more with the family and know what their home life is like, so they can understand the children more and better care for them.
The Order has been in Perth since 1970, always working for the marginalised, relying on Divine Providence in the form of charity from others, but things are getting very tight indeed.
They have been searching for months for someone to drive the bus, as the three Sisters already divide their time between Pastoral care and teaching as well as running Kora three days a week.
Their Congregation’s charism has always been in “liberating involvement with the powerless in compassion” said Sister Charla Fernando, coordinates the Kora Centre.
“When migrants arrive, the adults have to learn the language and get jobs, which leaves the kids in limbo, so we look after them,” Sr Charla said.
“When they’re under age five, kids learn by playing, and when they receive one-on-one love and care they develop the confidence to start regular schooling and interact with other kids.
“Their parents trust us, as they find their children the confidence to interact with other kids, having made friends easily with children from such diverse cultures here.”
She added that their interaction with kids from other cultures and countries also gives them a unique ability to establish friendships regardless of race or colour.
“When a new child arrives, they make friends with the others straight away. Their parents all come from different circumstances but we teach them to love everyone equally,” she said, adding that they start each day with a prayer to God.
Though not all the kids come from Christian families, Sr Charla said that many African families are Christian.
The Servite Sisters are a branch of the Servants of Mary, an Order started by seven Florentine merchants in Italy in the 13th century in response to the divine call for prayer and penance, inspired by the Blessed Mother of Sorrows.
The Servite Sisters’ Congregation itself was founded in 1854 by five young women in South India and helped by Jesuit Father Peter Mercatti, an Italian Jesuit. Today, the Order has established over 150 houses throughout India, Myanmar, Australia, the Philippines and Italy, with the international headquarters in Chennai.
Things are much easier in India, where Sr Charla says that charity organisations are much cheaper to run, and accessible to more people. But here, the Sisters often get buried under licensing and insurance fees and bureaucratic red tape.
Though they only provide the basic necessities in terms of material possessions, the Servite Sisters give that which is needed most – love and compassion.
“With so much divorce, childrens’ hearts are breaking; they yearn for a father, or which ever parent they don’t get to see,” Sr Charla said.
Though parents help out sometimes, they are often away working and educating themselves to establish the family, but, Sr Charla says, the friendship of the children and the love of the Sisters is what they can offer.
To help the Sisters out financially, practically or materially, call them on 9271 9031, 9354 5083 or email