When Australian Army Chaplain Cameron West heard he was deploying to Tuvalu, he researched the country, but that could only prepare him so much for what he was about to experience.
CAPTION: ADF guests watch watched the Nauti and Fetuvalu culture group perform at the Taulaga school games opening ceremony at the Nauti primary school in Tuvalu. Story and photos by Corporal Melina Young.
Chaplain West landed on the tiny pacific nation halfway between Australia and Hawaii to provide key religious leader engagement and pastoral care to personnel during Operation Solania – Island Chief.
In the third iteration of the operation this year, the ADF and the Forum Fisheries Agency worked with Tuvalu, Kiribati and Vanuatu to protect their natural resources and Exclusive Economic Zones.
During his visit, Chaplain West was involved in numerous community engagements and felt privileged to be working within the Tuvaluan community.
“One of the church services I was invited to attend was entirely led by women – the message, the prayers, and the amazing singing – it was very humbling but also inspiring,” he said.
Chaplain West also met with a group of parish pastors to discuss issues facing the community.
“Churches and religious groups make a significant contribution to civil society in Australia, and proportionately that’s even more the case in Tuvalu,” Chaplain West said.
“To understand that contribution properly, it’s important to hear directly from pastors and religious leaders.”
Discussion revolved around the key role of the church in Tuvalu to provide spiritual guidance through messages of love and hope in the wake of global challenges.
The increased importance of faith-based and family-based support networks in guiding young Tuvaluans was also discussed, in light of social issues and challenges.
Parish pastor Taualo Penivao attended the meeting, and said he treasured the partnership his community had with the ADF.
“We have strong hope to develop further for the benefit of both parties,” he said.
Chaplain West said he was impressed by the deep faith of the religious leaders and the strength it gave to their communities to respond to the challenges they faced, such as climate change and labour migration.
At the end of the meeting, bibles were exchanged and the group expressed their desire to meet with the ADF again in the near future.
CAPTION: Australian Army officer Chaplain Cameron West visits Lofeagai Preschool and introduces the children to Able Seaman Pepper Penguin and Sapper Pat from the ADF children’s book series.
In his week-long visit, Chaplain West also paid a visit to Lofeagai Preschool where he delivered Able Seaman Pepper Penguin and Sapper Pat books from the ADF children’s book series to the class.
The books kept the children interested and helped break down language barriers, he said.
“The children had so much joy. They were just as happy to have visitors to their preschool as they were to receive the books,” Chaplain West said.
“I won’t forget their smiles.”
Chaplain West highlighted the importance of engaging with the public on deployment and said Defence didn’t operate outside the community, but was part of it.
CAPTION: The ADF were invited to watch the second Taulaga school games opening ceremony where they watched the lighting of the cauldron and met team captains at the Nauti primary school in Tuvalu.
Chaplain West, along with other deployed ADF members, was also invited to watch the second Taulaga School Games Opening Ceremony at the Nauti Primary School in Tuvalu.
Guests watched the lighting of the cauldron, were introduced to the team captains, and were entertained with traditional dances by the Nauti and Fetuvalu cultural group.
“Op Solania is about working together in the shared interests of countries in the Pacific,” Chaplain West said.
“The contribution of churches might have a different shape in our respective countries, but our partnership requires mutual understanding and appreciation.”