Dear Columban Friends,
Columban lay missionary Marjorie Engcoy formally launched the Sema Livelihood Program in St. Pius X Parish in Fiji on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020, to celebrate the giftedness of women and their strength as persons in the society and in the family. As a Columban mission supporter, you helped make that possible. She wrote to me recently with this update, including the details on how the project came about and how they dealt with COVID:
The Sema Livelihood Program began as a recycling project for the interested women during the 2019 Season of Creation. It started with two women coming until it grew its membership to twelve. We used to meet every Tuesday of the week; later we added Thursday. The sessions were then held at the meeting room in the parish. It was filled with chatter and laughter as they learned how to weave their first project—a photo frame—using newspaper tubes.
As we were preparing for its formal launch in the parish, we got stuck on what to name the program. Most of the ladies had trouble connecting or joining one newspaper tube to another while weaving a basket. When the joining is not properly done, the whole thing collapses, so one would have to start again. It was because of this that the members unanimously decided to name the program Sema Livelihood Program. “Sema” is a Fijian word, which means, “connect.”
As we were discussing this, a member shared her reflection on the chosen name, saying that it is more than just the physical meaning of the word which we do every day. Deeper than connecting newspaper tubes while weaving, the ladies also were able to connect with each other as they share their life stories. They’ve also grown more conscious about the value of caring for creation. And, we have now completed establishing its four subprograms, which are weaving, sewing, urban farming, and cooking. All of the four sub-programs aim to provide income-generating ideas for unemployed mothers in the parish.
Unfortunately, just a couple of weeks after the launch, COVID-19 hit Fiji. We had to cancel all parish activities including Sema’s weekly sessions. After three weeks of lockdown in the capital, we slowly resumed our sessions. This provided the mothers the avenue to share their experience of lockdown—how they coped with domestic stress like being cramped up in a tiny home with a large number of people in the house, restless school children, etc. One of them shared, “During the lockdown, the rolling of newspaper tubes and weaving of baskets helped me a lot. It provided me the distraction, and it made me productive.” She was able to weave at least eight baskets.
Another member used the lockdown opportunity to sew more bags; and another concentrated on her own backyard garden. As they were sharing, they were able to show support to one another which tightened their bond. Soon enough, laughter came back on the scene with these strong women.
We began the relationship as women with the same interest in hand craft and then expanded to commitment to care for creation. From the basic skills that were shared, they gradually pitch in their own creativity in making their products. They have grown as their relationship with each other evolved—with compassion and love for one another. The program is not just a livelihood program but it has also become their own support group whenever they need it. But for me, this is the miracle of five loaves and two fish in action right before my eyes.
Columban lay missionary Marjorie Engcoy and the women of the Sema project relied on their commitment to the program and each other during the coronavirus pandemic. They were able to move forward in faith during a very difficult time for the entire world. Thank you for making this project, and others like it, possible throughout the world. Just like the women in the Sema project, together we grow in compassion and love for one another.
You will be gratefully remembered in our Masses and prayers.
Gratefully Yours in Christ,
Fr. John Burger
Director, U.S. Region