The immersion experiences, which are part of the College’s Solidarity social justice advocacy and activities, introduce the students to the work of Marist communities in other parts of the country and overseas.
In June this year, three groups of Year 11 students had life-changing experiences when they spent two weeks at a Marist school for disabled children in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the Aboriginal community of Wadeye in Northern Territory, and the Marist community in Talit, West Bengal, India.
Solidarity Coordinator Katie Lynch, said at Marist College North Shore, our students pride themselves on being ‘others centred’.
“This philosophy is at the heart of what motivates them to become involved in the immersion program. Solidarity is so important to living out the Gospels in our daily lives and the longevity of the immersion programs are testimony to the students’ thirst to give unto others in whatever capacity they can.”
We knew we were going to face another side of Australia. The fact that we were able to go on an immersion in our own country told us this.
For Year 11 students’ Josh Ferraz and Flynn Tully, their two weeks in Cambodia was an eye-opening experience they will never forget.
They were forced out of their comfort zone on numerous occasions – from navigating the chaotic Phnom Penh traffic, to labouring in the country’s harsh heat and humidity and witnessing poverty and the marginalisation of children with disabilities.
There was also much joy, particularly when the boys worked at Lavalla, a Primary school for children with disabilities run by the Marists Brothers.
Children from more than 20 rural provinces live at Lavalla – the only government-approved school providing Primary education to children with physical disabilities. During their week, the Marist boys taught the Lavalla students some English and helped them with their chores around the property including gardening, painting or farming.
“The children of Lavalla community are full of love and happiness,” said Josh and Flynn.
“Although they find some tasks physically challenging, they all find ways to overcome the barriers they face in their lives and move on with life, as if there was nothing stopping them,” said Josh.
“Everyday they would jump with joy to see us and they gladly let us into their life at Lavalla. These children were not only a joy to be around but they were inspiring. They made us realize that there is nothing in life that should stop you from doing what you want to do,” said Flynn.
“Our experience in Cambodia is something that we will never forget. The immersion allowed us to not only connect with another Marist community but allowed us to understand the challenges that many developing countries have to face on a day to day basis,” said the boys.
At Wadeye, a community of 3000, 330 kilometres south-west of Darwin, the Marist group had a similarly life-changing experience helping with maintenance projects and playing and swimming with the local children. They also learnt about Aboriginal culture from the traditional owners of the land, who took them hunting and told them Dreaming stories.
For Lachlan Mitchell, the relationships he formed with the children is one of his fondest memories.
“We spent countless hours chasing them, kicking AFL balls and swinging them around. This rich experience of playing with the children and being immersed in the oldest living culture in the world was matched with the eye-opening aspects of contemporary indigenous Australia and the issues they face,” said Lachlan.
“Before embarking on the immersion journey we knew we were going to face another side of Australia, the fact that we were able to go on an Immersion in our own country told us this.”
In India, special relationships were formed with the boys at the Marist Tribal Boys’ Hostel in Talit and with the children with HIV at the Chetana Clinic.
Brayden Shawcross said it was a journey of many different challenges, changes and joys.
“It has opened me to explore many different aspects about the person I want to be. It has challenged me to always look for the light when all I see is darkness, and to understand, respect and love each person, lifestyle and culture for what they are,” said Brayden.
Director of Faith Formation Anthony Munro, who attended Indian immersion, said one can’t help but be inspired by the soon to be canonised Mother Teresa’s words, ‘Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you’.
“The impact of our interactions, no matter how small, can never be underestimated,” he said.