Ask No Questions

By Sr. Jeanette Matela, SSpS

Happy Mistakes

I wanted to join the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary because my cousin who was with them was sent to Africa. But my spiritual director –an SVD – by mistake dropped my letter expressing my desire to enter the convent in the Holy Spirit convent Quezon City instead of the FMM convent in Tagaytay. When the reply and application forms came from the SSpS sister, I was surprised. I did not want to join them because I already knew them. I had been working as secretary to Mother Fidentina, SSpS, Principal of the Girls High School, University of San Carlos, Cebu City. Anyway I filled up the form and mailed it back to them. And the rest is history. I have no regrets.

Mission Fervour

The desire to the missions was always with me. It grew and grew as the years went by. Every time out superior came from Rome, I always found a way to talk to her and tell of my dream. Right after my first vows, I was appointed to Taiwan but I never got there. Since I had only a Bachelor’s degree, I was first sent to get a Master’s degree in Economics I was appointed Head of Commerce Department in the College of the Holy Spirit, Mendiola. The mission appointment to Taiwan fell into the waters. I was not discouraged. In 1973, my third year in College of the Holy Spirit, I got another mission appointment – this time to Ghana, West Africa. Actually, I had to choose: to finish my MBA studies or go the missions. I did not finish wiring my thesis, I went to the missions. God had given me my dream – to go to Africa like my FMM cousin. In Ghana, I worked as Accountant/Bursar in our mission hospital but on my free days I worked with the youth and women’s groups. Since I kept my mission fervour high and I learned to love the Ghanaian people, I had no difficulty adapting to the country and the people.

Needed in PNG

After four years in Ghana, I went back to the Philippines and I was assigned to Tarlac, then Laoag. On Christmas Eve 1980, I received a call from the Provincial Superior asking me if I am willing to go to a mission country again. The Divine Word Institute in PNG needed someone to head and teach in the Business Studies Department. Although deep down I wanted to say yes Right away, I tried to be generous. I suggested to her that sisters with the same qualifications that I have and who have not been in the missions should go for I have been in the missions already. But she told me that none of them liked to teach. So, on June 5, 1981, with another sister, I arrived in PNG and have been there since then. There were only eight students taking diploma in Business Studies in 1981; seven graduated in 1982. Besides being the head of the department, I taught all kinds of subjects from Typing to Accounting.

Agents of Change

In the beginning not knowing the culture and study habits of the students, I expected a lot form them. I gave reading assignments, expected a lively discussion of the materials the next meeting. When I started to ask question, I got no answers. I encouraged the students to ask questions, nothing was forthcoming. I was frustrated. A year later, when I attended an orientation course on Melanesian culture, my eyes were opened, in their culture, children are not supposed to ask questions from their elders. This is carried into the classroom. However, conscious of being an agent of change, I gradually encouraged students to ask questions as part of their learning process. As a result at present, the students in the degree level are more inquisitive than those at the matriculation level (Grade 11 to 12).

The Singsing

Speaking of culture, the Papua New Guineans are eager to preserve their cultural heritage. One of the means they use in though ‘singing’ where they really put on their traditional songs and dances. Different provinces hold cultural days, usually 2-3 days long, during which different tribes present their own singsing. It is against their traditional law for one tribe to use the singsing of another tribe. They even got to the extent that a non-member of a tribe is not allowed to join in their singsing. However, the law is not observed in schools when they hold a cultural day each year. Any students may join a group as long as he or she is able to produce the necessary bilas for the singsing. One cultural day in the Divine Word University, the Filipino group presented two folk dances. As I joined the group I thought about how one culture differs from the other but could still result in unity and friendship in a very special way.