Brit chaplain learning Filipino to save seafarers
|Reverend Roger Stone has learnt basic Filipino through his work with Filipino seafarers|
SOUTHAMPTON - A British chaplain from the Apostleship of the Sea is learning Filipino and other languages in aid of his mission to help passing seafarers from around the world.
Reverend Roger Stone, who runs a Catholic ministry at the port of Southampton among others, offers support and assistance to seafarers passing through England on cargo vessels and cruise ships.
“Because the seafarers are away from home for so long, and it’s very difficult for them to get off the ships, then we go onto the ships to welcome them and see if we can help them with practical and spiritual support,” said Rev. Stone.
According to the Maritime Labor Convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO), more than 1.2 million people work as seafarers around the world, delivering an estimated 90% of international trade in food, fuel, clothing, automotive and other industries.
The Philippines provide the majority of seafarers, with an estimated 400,000 Filipino mariners working in vessels across the world, based on statistics from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency.
“I meet a lot of Filipinos, araw-araw, a lot of kababayan who come into Southampton. I must say that it’s a source of great joy meeting people from the Philippines because they’re nearly always people of such faith. People of warmth and generosity,” Rev. Stone observed.
With one in three seafarers coming from the Philippines, it’s no wonder the chaplain, who was born in Wales and raised in England, is learning the national language, Filipino.
“Every time I go on to a ship, I ask them to teach me one new word. It’s very often I forget what that new word is. So for example, I’ll go on and say ‘magandang umaga,’ ‘magandang hapon,’ ‘magandang gabi,’ ‘kumusta ka,’ ‘kumusta kayo,’ or what have you. ‘Saan ka nakatira?’, ‘Ilang taon ka na?’, ‘May asawa ka na?’” he demonstrated with excitement.
Speaking to ABS-CBN Europe at the Seafarers Centre in Southampton, he added: “It’s rather nice if somebody makes the effort to welcome you in your own language. I think it just makes you a bit warmer about yourself, a bit happier about yourself, a bit more comfortable really. And perhaps just enhances the trust a little bit more as well.”
Life at sea can be difficult. Seafarers can work long hours in potentially harsh conditions, braving choppy waters and spending much of their time in limited living quarters.
And perhaps most difficult of all, they spend months on end out at sea, away from family, friends, and the comforts of land, with temporary contracts averaging between 4-10 months.
This struggle was evident in some of Rev. Stone’s visits. On one occasion, he said, a Filipino seafarer came up to him and started crying.
“One of the seafarers came up to me and just leaned on to me and cried because he misses his family so much. And all I can really do is be there for him,” he recalled.
Rev. Stone, along with handful of volunteers, offer a variety of services to all seafarers, from legal advice and logistical support, to communication tools like phone cards and even free bibles and rosaries.
He also builds friendship and trust with most of the seafarers he meets, keeping an open line of communication over text messages and social media like Facebook.
“I’ve got far more Filipino friends on Facebook than any other nationality. And it’s really wonderful because when they do get WiFi access, or any Internet access, I very often get messages: very early in the morning, very late at night, and sometimes during the day. But it just maintains that relationship and that’s what’s what it’s all about,” he said.
For Filipino seafarers and the local land-based community in Southampton, the chaplain’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed, especially in times of crises for vulnerable workers.
“Rev. Stone is a big help, especially for those Filipinos who are stressed about their jobs and their families far away in the Philippines. He’s been very helpful also in some cases where Filipinos have been involved in trouble and abuse,” said Father Claro Conde, a local Filipino priest from the nearby St Patrick’s Church.
Hilario de la Cruz, a seafarer from a cruise ship, added: “Rev. Stone and Father Conde lead us closer to God in our journeys. We are so far away from home and our family, so they give us guidance.”
For the upbeat and energetic chaplain, his work is underlined by a desire to spread the Christian message of love and acceptance.
“Everybody is welcome. Everybody deserves and receives the ministry that I can offer. I’m only sharing God’s love, it’s not my love. It’s God’s love that I’m sharing, and that is very powerful,” he concluded.
The Apostleship of the Sea provide unconditional support and services to seafarers through their ministries around the world, with people like Rev. Stone who are always ready to offer friendship, spirituality, guidance, and a helping hand.