Students from over 30 Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) schools are on a mission this Lent, hoping to raise funds and awareness for the plight of some of the world’s most vulnerable through Project Compassion.
Project Compassion is an initiative of Caritas Australia and runs throughout Lent. ‘Be More’ is the theme for 2021. This is a reference to the famous quote from St Oscar Romero: “Aspire not to have more, but to be more.”
Having come together for a special webinar hosted by the CEDP Mission Team together with the Diocese of Parramatta Social Justice Office where they heard powerful stories from refugees and underprivileged communities, students emerged determined to ‘Be More’ and play their part in eradicating poverty and promoting justice across the world.
Students were moved by stories of resilient people trying to ‘Be More’ for their families and communities. There was Arsad in Indonesia who helped bring toilets to his neighbourhood which had a profound impact on improving health and sanitation and Oliva in Tanzania who undertook Caritas-Australia supported literacy and numeracy classes to help run her small business then decided to hold her own classes to pass on that education to others in her community.
Another powerful story was that of Jamila who was forced to flee for her life after her village in Myanmar was bombed and set on fire after being caught in the middle of a armed-conflict in the region. The 22-year-old single mother walked for six days from Myanmar to Bangladesh where she escaped to Cox's Bazaar - the world's biggest refugee settlement, housing more than 1.3 million people.
"They were quite moved by the stories and shocked by some of the statistics, especially fifty percent of refugees being children," said Angela Wedesweiler, Religious Education Coordinator at St Canice's Primary Katoomba. "The images of the refugee camp really hit home as they saw how difficult a place it would be to live in. To then hear that there is little chance that Jamawala could leave there was also quite moving."
“I cannot comprehend being away from home and forced to live in a camp, I can’t stop thinking about how hard this is, I am so lucky,” said Jamie from St Oliver’s Harris Park. “1.3 million refugees is a tragedy, we need to share this story,” added Mikaela.
Students were pleased to hear that while still stuck in the camp, Jamila is doing much better, thanks in no small part to the support of Caritas.
“It also helped me understand the little contributions we can make and how it can go a long way,” said Adut Deng from St Clare's. “I learnt that I have a lot of power and privilege and because of that I should go out of my way to help those who don't have the same advantages as me.”
“A lot of students don't always know, see or hear what is happening in communities around the world,” explained Dale Ahern, Social Justice Coordinator at St Clare’s. “Through Project Compassion, we can challenge this thinking and help them understand how they can make a significant difference in our wider, global community.”
Colleen Fuller at St Marys also highlighted how being part of this project helps students in their local community.
“I think it helps students to have a voice, to be an advocate,” she said. “Firstly in their own families and with peers and in social groups. It helps them to be able ‘to see a need’ and to ‘do something about it’.”
“We brainstormed ideas on how we could better engage with students at our school to not only help raise money but just as important, raise awareness,” said Emmaus Catholic College student Georgia Borg.
"Our entire Student Mission Team participated in the online Project Compassion launch and they were truly moved by all the stories of hardship faced by people around the world," said Colleen Fuller, Religious Education Coordinator at Our Lady of the Rosary Primary St Marys. "They were all really impressed by the impact Project Compassion has in helping these people and understand how even a small contribution can make a huge difference."
Students at St Oliver's Primary Harris Park have adopted an incredible array of initiatives including a ‘Be More’ art competition, special year group incentives and rewards for donations and students will also make ‘Be More’ pledges which will be placed on the school mercy tree.
The Social Justice team at St Clare's Catholic High School Hassall Grove immediately launched their campaign around the theme ‘Love for our Global Community’, decorating the school for a special Valentine’s Day celebration and holding a lunchtime talk for students about social justice initiatives.
Our Lady of the Rosary Primary St Marys is determined to contribute and plans to hold a series of small fundraisers. Gilroy College students proposed an exciting teachers v students sports tournament along with other fundraising ideas such as Taco Tuesdays, an 'Amazing Race' event and Caritas Colour Run. Five girls in the Faith In Action Team at St Canice’s Primary Katoomba are planning a special ‘purple’ fundraising day while students at St Patrick’s Primary Blacktown proposed making slides, videos and special presentations to promote Project Compassion.
“They’re excited to set some 'challenges' to experience and help understand some of the hardships faced such as not having electricity for a while,” said Natalie Coghlan, Religious Education Coordinator at St Patrick's.
Students are in for a treat at Emmaus Catholic College, Kemps Creek. Not only will they enjoy pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, they'll also have a chance to win a jar full of easter eggs (if they can guess how many there are) and money will also be raised via a car wash, raffle and teacher v student soccer match.