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Ruby Princess, with love from Wollongong

Chaplain John Kewa and packages (Robert Peet)
Chaplain John Kewa, Alison Covington, Wollongong MP Paul Scully and Nicole Dillon with some of the 1,200 care packages sent to the Ruby Princess crew (Robert Peet)

KATE McILWAIN
| Illawarra Mercury | Edited

WOLLONGONG, NSW - The troubled Ruby Princess cruise ship has now left Port Kembla for the Philippines while police continue a homicide investigation into the source of Australia's largest outbreak of coronavirus.

But on Tuesday, before it sailed, a little bit of hope and compassion - in the form of well-loved Aussie snacks - arrived to lift the spirits of the 1,000 crew members on board, thanks to a generous donation of care packages from the Illawarra community.

Port Kembla Mission to Seafarers chaplain, Papua New Guinean John Kewa, who helped to deliver 1,200 packages full of chips, fruit, Tim Tams, Vegemite and other food and personal supplies, said the crew were buoyed by the show of support and human connection in such a difficult time.

"It's a message of empathy and compassion from the community," Chaplain Kewa said, noting crew members had sent messages via social media to express their gratitude.

"They have been caught in a crossfire of negativity... but they these are sons, daughters, parents and even grandparents so as a community of people we have a duty of care to them."

Across the state, there are 369 passengers whose Covid-19 illness has been linked to the Ruby Princess, and 20 patients linked to the ship have died in Australia.

Watching the multiple controversies linked to the Ruby Princess unfold is what gave Kiama resident Nicole Dillon the idea to send care packages to the crew.

"The publicity they were getting must have been devastating for them and I saw an opportunity to show them we cared and supported them during these troubled times," she said.

Packages ready to load aboard Ruby Princess (Robert Peet)In less than a week - with help from local politicians, the NSW Port Authority, the Port Kembla Mission to Seafarers and charity Good360, Ms Dillon's idea became a reality.

As well as comfort food - not so easily obtained by crew with the ship is in lock down and the galley closed - the packages also contained personal notes and kids' drawings.

"We tried to encourage people to send in some Aussie type things, so it was something a little bit different that they wouldn't normally have on board," Ms Dillon said.

"This is just a small way we can show them that we care."

"Our message to them is: It's not your fault, we hope you're OK," Chaplain Kewa said.

Footnote from Fr Garry Roche

John Kewa, also known as John Silva Kewa, is from the Mokei Akilika Kogump clan who live mainly in the hills overlooking Mt Hagen in the Western Highlands of PNG.

John's parents, Martin Kewa and Anna Mel, resettled in Kindeng near the Highlands Highway and John grew up there.

As John himself told the media, at one stage he studied to be a Catholic priest but later decided it was not for him. However his studies in Port Moresby and in Melbourne gave him a solid foundation and he has flourished in his role as chaplain to the seafarers. I wish him all the best.

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Garrett Roche

John Kewa has been named Wollongong's Citizen of the Year.
See https://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/7095752/incredibly-community-minded-wollongongs-citizen-of-the-year-for-2021-revealed/

Garry Roche

John Kewa, also known as John Silva Kewa is from the Mokei Akilika Kogump clan who live mainly in the hills overlooking Hagen Town.

John's parents, Martin Kewa and Anna Mel, had re-settled in Kindeng near the Highlands Highway and John grew up there.

As John himself has told the media, at one stage he studied to be a Catholic priest, but later decided that it was not for him. However his studies in Pom, and in Melbourne, gave him a solid foundation and he has flourished in his role as chaplain to the seafarers. I wish him all the best.

He is from the same tribe as two former well-known Mt. Hagen Local Government Councillors, Komp De, and Kombra Kelya (Phil Fitzpatrick may have known them way back.)

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