By Andrew Humphries
Six-thousand kilometres separate Kiribati in the Pacific Islands and Ulverstone in Tasmania, but one man is doing his bit to bring residents from both countries together.
As the Synod’s Community Connections Worker in Tasmania, employed through the Justice and International Mission Cluster, Taua Ritiata plays a vital role in helping seasonal workers like those from his home nation of Kiribati settle in to life in Australia.
The Seasonal Worker Program, overseen by the Federal Government, offers an opportunity to people from nine Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to work in our agricultural sector for either nine months or between one and three years.
“Seasonal workers are assisting Australia in a time of need,” says Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.
“They are filling important gaps unable to be met by the Australian workforce. We should, in turn, ensure that they are well connected with their local community.”
And ensuring a connection is made and maintained with the community is a major part of Taua’s role as Community Connections Worker.
It’s a job he loves and one which brings him a great deal of satisfaction.
With over 1000 seasonal workers employed throughout Tasmania, Taua has the task of making sure each of them gains as much as possible from their stay.
It means a lot of travel but, for someone who loves meeting new people, it’s no hardship for Taua.
“I travel around Tasmania introducing myself to everyone and I try to reach out to everyone as much as I can,” he says.
“I will also meet with members of the community in which the workers are based to help establish that sense of connection, so that the relationship between the community and workers is a strong one.
“So, as the first point of contact, I am trying to build a mutual relationship that benefits the community and seasonal workers.
“When that connection is made, there are real benefits for both sides.”
Tasmania’s Synod Liaison Minister Rohan Pryor says Taua plays a vitally important role in helping seasonal workers feel a part of the communities they are involved with on the Apple Isle.
“Taua has been employed with the role of connecting seasonal agricultural workers with local community groups, including churches, and working to facilitate meaningful connections between them, all in two days per week,” Rohan says.
“(These) groups of agricultural workers live in the local community and significant relationships can be built up over time, bringing mutual benefit, enjoyment and encouragement.
“This is a great opportunity for the Uniting Church to express Christian hospitality and potentially involve seasonal workers in the life of the church and local community while they are here, to build connections and share mutual support and encouragement.”
Taua says the seasonal workers, including some from his Kiribati home, have a positive attitude which helps to build strong connections with church groups throughout the state.
“The Kiribati workers, as an example, have become part of the Ulverstone Uniting Church with Minister Gospel Ralte,” he says.
“I know Gospel really loves what they bring and how they interact with the congregation members and that is the sort of connection we are aiming for through the seasonal workers program.”
Gospel, who has moved to Victoria to begin a role as Minister within the Gippsland Presbytery, says the Kiribati group members have made a huge contribution to the parish, which consists of the Ulverstone and Sprent congregations.
“We have a number of members attached to the Ulverstone congregation and they are not only hard workers, they are hard singers as well,” Gospel says.
“They work eight hours a day and then take part in church choir, song practice and Bible study in the evening.”
Gospel says the choir practice has become a focal point in helping the group’s members build a strong relationship with the church.
“They are gifted singers with beautiful voices which they use to drive out their worries and loneliness, even in their workplaces,” he says.
“The minister’s residence has been used as one of the gathering centres for song practice and youth meetings, and fellowship meals have been shared together, while choir practice on Monday nights has become an extended hour of fellowship.
“The members say they have found a home in this community, where they receive love, prayer and support from the congregations.”
Gospel says the Kiribati members have also become an integral part of Youth Evening Services (YES) which kicked off in August and involve young people from different denominations throughout the region.
“YES is full of dynamic inspiration through songs of praise,” Gospel says.
“The Church Council hopes that one day there will be a worship service in the Kiribati language and, as the evening service needs musical instruments, it has opened the door to donations and bought keyboards, a guitar and cajon drum.”
While the Kiribati members have been enriched by their contact with the congregation, Gospel says they have repaid that faith many times over, thanks to a wonderful ability to connect with the community.
“The members have become (a source) of spiritual upliftment and energy both within and beyond the congregations,” Gospel says.
“So anyone who hears their singing is blessed, as the meaning of the songs are felt in the hearts of the audience.
“Every Sunday, they present special songs in the Ulverstone and Sprent congregations.”
While there are challenges involved in his role, Taua gets great satisfaction from seeing how both workers and communities embrace the opportunity to learn from and support each other.
“Yes, homesickness can be a problem for some of the workers, but there is a great deal of excitement around being able to connect with a community,” he says.
“I love meeting new people and sharing the level of excitement their work and being part of the community brings for them.
“I get a tremendous sense of joy from seeing that and from what I do.”
Community groups throughout Tasmania wanting to become involved with the seasonal workers program can contact Taua at firstname.lastname@example.org