Winter sleepout plants seeds of gratitude


Students Genevieve Colman, Rebecca Chesworth, and Bonnie Lyons are prepared for Domremy Catholic College’s first Winter Sleep out. Photo: Kitty Beale

Domremy Catholic College Five Dock students will sleep overnight on cardboard boxes in their school hall on Friday to gain a more authentic understanding of the plight of homeless people.

While the event may resemble a giant sleepover, the seriousness of the situation for those who find themselves without a roof over their heads isn’t lost on the students.

About 80 students from Years 7 to 12 will take part in the winter sleep out event on July 17 to raise funds, awareness and collect clothing to aid homeless people across Sydney through the St Vincent De Paul Society initiative.

Current figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 60 per cent of the more that 105,000 people experiencing homelessness in Australia are under the age of 35, and 13 per cent are children under the age of 12. Almost half (44 per cent) are women.

The school’s social justice coordinator Jessica Touma was reminded recently of how near homelessness is, providing a spare blanket for a homeless woman with a mental illness who was sleeping at a park near her house.

“We could all sit in our homes and say ‘that’s their problem’. This event is about being proactive and giving the students an authentic experience of what it would be like to be homeless,” she said.

A guest speaker from the St Vincent De Paul Society will talk to students about the challenges and prejudices associated with being homeless, while a guest speaker from the Wayside Chapel will share their personal experience of being without a home. Students have collected non-perishable foods, warm clothes and other goods to donate as well as fundraising to meet a target of $1500.

“Our 2015 school theme is ‘Embed the seed of kindness, giving and gratitude’,” Ms Touma said.

“Part of the vision of the social justice committee and also of the winter sleep out is to do that – to embed the seed of kindness, giving, and being grateful that we have all of these things.

“We hold at high value the spirit of Nano Nagle who was the foundress of this school. She was all about reaching out to the vulnerable. That’s the key message we want to leave with our girls – that whatever you do in life, remember those who are disadvantaged.”

Year 10 student Bonnie Lyons, 16 joined the social justice committee early this year. She has taken part in a Nano Nagle camp for disadvantage children and leadership summit examining the difference influential women make in social justice around the world.

She said the statistics were what had surprised her most as she learnt more about homelessness.

“We know homelessness is an issue but we didn’t know how much it impacts people around us,” she said.

Year 12 student Rebecca Chesworth, 18, agreed.

“I think it will be really good to raise awareness, because everybody realises that homelessness exists but they don’t realise how close it is to us,” she said.

“People think it’s a problem but it doesn’t affect them, but then you see how easy it is to fall into homelessness and that it’s not a choice to be unemployed. Sometime people need help.

Year 8 student Genevieve Colman, 13, said she was encouraged to join the school’s social justice committee as they planned the winter sleep out, the school’s first.

“When they suggested the winter sleep out I thought that was a really cool idea because I thought it was practical, being able to help people instead of just talking about issues,” she said.

“I think the way it is ignored and treated as somebody else’s problem stood out to me, and that it is considered kind of shameful to be homeless, so if you can help them it is good.”


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