Eager to serve in the country of her birth: British Anglican mission volunteer launches Night Pastors in Seychelles
Victoria Howard - Anglican Mission volunteer helping to set up Night Pastors in Seychelles. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - A team of volunteers in Seychelles have embarked on a new initiative to become what they call 'Paster Lannwit' (Night Pastors).
The volunteers set out for the first time on Friday evening, venturing through the streets of the Seychelles capital of Victoria providing support and assistance to anybody in need of a helping hand.
This was immediately after the Bishops of the Anglican Diocese and Roman Catholic Diocese in Seychelles, James Wong and Denis Wiehe respectively had led the official commissioning service for the volunteers at the St Paul's Cathedral in Victoria.
A non-governmental organisation modelled on similar approaches around the world, 'Paster Lannwit', has brought together volunteers from both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in the Indian Ocean archipelago of 90,000 people, the majority of whom are Christians.
British national Victoria Howard, who was born in the Seychelles, is an Anglican Mission Volunteer who has helped to get the NGO off its feet.
Victoria, who grew up in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, is divorced with two grown-up sons and this is the first time she has ever committed herself to full-time missionary work.
SNA caught up with Victoria on Friday to find out more about the 'Paster Lannwit' initiative as well as her connection with the Seychelles.
Having been in Seychelles for the last seven months she managed to exchange a few Creole words [the native language of the Seychelles] at the start of the interview.
"Mon pe aprann kreol, mon al leson ALDEC samndi bomaten me se tre dousman." (I'm learning Creole, I have classes on Saturday mornings at the Adult Learning Distance Education Centre - ALDEC - but its very slow.) [laughs].
SNA: How did the idea come about to set up this NGO Sesel Paster Lannwit [Seychelles Night pastors]?
VH: It’s a long story. But, I wanted to do some voluntary work abroad and I applied to a charity in the UK called Us (United Society) - it used to be called USPG and they used to provide funding for churches abroad and they asked 'is there anywhere you’d like to go, anywhere you’ve got connections with?" and I said well, I was born in the Seychelles. My father was archdeacon here and I still know Bishop French [Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of the Indian Ocean, French Chang-Him], so if it was possible to go there that would be wonderful.
And Bishop Wong here saw my application and he saw that I had helped to start Street Pastors [an initiative of Ascension Trust, a British charity group started in 1993] in my hometown in the UK, and he thought he would like to do that here. So I arrived at the end of last October and it was agreed that I would try and get a form of Street Pastors going here. Here we call it Night Pastors.
SNA: If I understand correctly it’s not only something the Anglican Church is involved in?
VH: No its joint, the ideal is to have as many Christian denominations as possible, So far we’ve got the Roman Catholic Church onboard and the Anglican Church. We’re hoping that Christians from other denominations would join in, they haven’t yet but we hope they will.
[editorial note: Seychelles has a population of around 90,000 and according to the National Bureau of Statistics 76.2 percent of the Seychelles population is Roman Catholic, 6.1 percent Anglican, 2.4 percent Hindu, 1.6 percent Muslim, and 13.7 percent other faiths.]
SNA: When you talk of Night Pastors, these are volunteers that join in - do they get some kind of training?
VH: They are all going through training, we’ve had a programme of training including subjects like basic first aid, communication skills, child protection, domestic abuse and sex workers, alcohol awareness, drugs awareness and the role of the police. So we’ve just got one more session to do.
I arrived at the end of October last year and we spent a lot of time going round to the different helping agencies to see what is already happening and then getting the support of government department [Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs Ministry have expressed support], because it’s important that we work in partnership with government and the police and we don’t do this on our own because we’re going to be out there on the frontline so we need the support of the police, the support of the social services department.
SNA: In terms of volunteers, how many do you have so far and how many are you looking for still?
VH: We’ve got 26, which is wonderful. I never thought we would get so many, I’ve been absolutely thrilled at the people who have come forward, who have felt called to do this, knowing very little about it but feeling a passion to help the vulnerable people of our country. There are more women than men so we still need more men.
We have enough men to go out because it’s important that we have mixed gender teams but we would like more. I would say probably most people are in their 40’s and 50’s, two couples are in their 30’s but anybody who is over the age of 18 can do it.
|Volunteers embarked on the Night Pastors initiative were commissioned on Friday during a church service held at the Anglican's St Paul Cathedral in the Seychelles Capital of Victoria. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: The volunteers have been commissioned now, so will you be going out every day? At what time and what exactly will you be doing out in the Streets of Victoria?
VH: First I would start with when we are going out. We’re going to start doing every Friday night from seven o'clock in the evening till eleven o'clock and that’s when the Bazar Victoria is on [event held on Friday evening with musical entertainment, sale of food and other items in Victoria].
Once the volunteers have built up their confidence then we’ll start going out later in the night on a Saturday night from maybe ten o'clock at night till maybe two or three o'clock in the morning. Each volunteer will only go out once a month or once every four weeks, but there will be a team out every weekend on either a Friday or a Saturday. And they’ll be in teams of four. Four people on the streets and two people back at our base who are called Prayer Pastors and they will be praying for the team and all the situations that they encounter during the night.
And what we’ll be doing mostly is just listening to people, getting alongside people chatting, finding out what their needs are. We will have with us bottles of water, sweets muesli bars, flip flops, first aid kits, wet wipes, kitchen towels…we will call the emergency services if there’s a need for police or an ambulance and we will have business cards…which have our phone numbers on and which also have the phone numbers of all helping agencies so that if somebody says ‘well am really struggling with alcohol and I would like to give up’, then we can suggest who they phone…or if they are not wanting to continue their lifestyle then we might suggest where they might get help.
We’re not going out there pushing anything on them and we are not going out there evangelizing. We are Christians but we’re not out there to convert people on the street we are just there to care for them, to listen to them and to try and direct them to places they might get help.
SNA: As this is being backed by the Anglican and Catholic Churches is the spiritual aspect going to be included if there is a will?
VH: Yes, if they are interested and ask us why we are doing this then we can talk about our faith, but only if we’re invited to do so, we are not pushing it on them. And if they want prayer then they can ask for that…we’re very much to be a listening ear, and just chatting to people and getting alongside and hopefully over time they will come to trust us and know that we’re independent. Yes we’ll get the police involved when we need to but we are not part of the police force and we’re not social workers, we’re kind of volunteers who are independent and hopefully over time they might begin to realize that they can trust us and will start opening up.
SNA: Has there been a study or evaluation of how many people out there need this kind of service?
VH: These projects happen all over the world - it started in the UK and they have spread to North America, New Zealand, Australia, parts of Africa and everywhere that they happen it’s found that over time the anti-social behavior goes down on the nights the Pastors are out, the crime rate goes down, and the hospitals admissions go down on that night and there’s a general sense of more calm and peace restored in the streets. For example, in towns across the UK where this has been happening for some years there are far fewer problems now with drunken behavior in town centres at night and it seems to have a real effect.
SNA: There is another group also based at the Anglican Cathedral in Victoria, ‘Nou la Pour Ou’ (We’re here for you) How are the Night Pastors different? Are you going to be complementing each other or doing more or less the same thing?
VH: No, we are not doing the same things at all. They’re very much supporting single parent families, and young people who are excluded from school. And for example they’ve just run a fantastic holiday club during the school holidays for 68 children…They were going out on the streets giving food to the homeless but that’s not currently what they’re doing so there is no overlap.
|The volunteers are expected to go out every weekend on either a Friday or a Saturday evening providing support to anybody in need of some kind of help. (Joe Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY|
SNA: In terms of financing, where is the money coming from?
VH: So far it’s come from me…so far I’ve done a lot of fundraising, am self-funded and I brought some funds with me to pay for a part-time coordinator when I leave because am leaving at the end of July. I will be back because I’ve got Seychellois nationality so I will be back but we will need to appoint a part-time coordinator.
Bishop Wong has been successful in getting a small grant from the UK from a Christian charity there. We’ve been donated water from a water company, Airtel has provided our telephones and are paying for the uniform, we’ve had gifts of flip flops, back packs there’s still stuff to buy which I’m buying at the moment. So we are seeking funding from sponsors, it’s not going to be a hugely expensive project because it’s mostly volunteers.
SNA: How much have you spent so far?
VH: I haven’t counted so far. [laughs]
SNA: You are an Anglican Mission volunteer, is that what you’ve done all your life?
VH: Except for helping set up this [street pastors] in my hometown it is the first time I’m doing this. I’m an occupational psychologist by profession but I’ve got to the age where my youngest son has finished university and I thought I don’t have anybody depending on me so I’m free to go and serve and I was really thrilled to be able to come back to the country of my birth.
SNA: What does it take to be a missionary person?
VH: Love of God, determination, fairly resilient and to be able to reach out to people and encourage them to join you. It’s not just me this is all the volunteers they answered the call…because I know what this involves but they don’t so they are stepping into it in faith.
SNA: Going back to your connection with Seychelles having been born here…
VH: Yes…Se sa akoz mon apel Victoria (Yes, that is why am called Victoria)
SNA: So your parents were working here at the time, your father was the Anglican archdeacon. How long were you in Seychelles for and why did you leave?
VH: That’s an interesting question. It was in the 1950’s [Seychelles was still a British colony at the time]. My father, who was very outspoken, loved the Seychelles. We had been here for four years then my father went on leave. He was very keen to come back for another term of service but this was not acceptable to the British Governor and the British Bishop at the time.
I was two and a half when I left. I came back in 1986 with my father for three weeks. I’ve seen the photos and I can say it’s changed a lot since then.
SNA: What’s your hope for your new NGO in Seychelles?
VH: I really hope that it takes off and that it becomes self-sustaining, that it grows and that it makes a difference to the people in trouble on the streets of our country.