Minister from Britain Extends Support to Seafarers by Learning Filipino
Seafarers on cargo vessels and cruise ships who pass through the ports of Southampton, England are fortunate because a Catholic ministry, Apostleship of the Sea, reaches out to them by offering spiritual support and other services. The British chaplain who runs the ministry, Reverend Roger Stone is even trying to learn Filipino along with other languages to help carry out this mission more effectively.
He said, “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.”
Data from Maritime Labor Convention of the International Labor Organization (ILO) states that more than 1.2 million worldwide are employed as seafarers and they deliver the estimated 90% of global trade in food, fuel, clothing, automotive and other industries.
The data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) also states that there are more or less 400,000 Filipino seafarers employed in various shipping companies all over the world. This number shows that Filipinos make up the majority of the workforce in seabased industries.
The minister from Britain finds it necessary to learn the Filipino language because one in three seamen he meets is a Filipino.
In an interview by ABS-CBN Europe, Rev. Stone said, “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.”
He further said, “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?’”
“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,” he added.
Rev. Stone recognize how difficult and lonely working amidst high seas can be. Aside from the health hazards that can be brought by having a job at sea, their work also entails long periods. To prove this reality, the chaplain recounted an incident when a Filipino seaman came up to him and cried.
He said, “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.”
Stone runs the Apostleship of the Sea together with a few volunteers and they offer all kinds of help to all seafarers. Their services can range from giving legal advice to logistical support, to giving communication tools like phone cards and even free bibles and rosaries.
The Bristish chaplain earns the trust and friendship of the seafarers he meet and maintains communication with them by exchanging text messages and thru social media like Facebook.
He said, “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.”
The efforts of Reverend Stone are well appreciated by Pinoy seamen and the local community in Southampton.
A Filipino priest, Father Claro Conde, assigned in the nearby St Patrick’s Church said, “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.”
A Pinoy seafarer working in a cruise ship, Hilario de la Cruz, 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.”