Fairfield school new home of hope

A warm embrace for Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary Fairfield’s newest students (from left): Andareena Aja, Crystal Raheem, Ghadi Ghaoui, Majd Sameer, Mayar Al Ganny and Alan Ismael. Photo: Kitty Beale

As political leaders continue to debate the treatment and social inclusion of refugees and asylum seekers, one primary school is proving it doesn’t take much to achieve results.

Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Primary Fairfield’s 670 students are leading the way, bringing compassion and respect back to those who are most vulnerable. The school welcomed 25 recently arrived refugees from Syria and Iraq into their community this year.

School Principal Br Nicholas Harsas, FSP, said that the pastoral support and welcome from the staff and students had been “amazing”.

“Our school community have really demonstrated Christian outreach in action, embracing the refugee children and their parents in a safe and happy and environment,” he said.

Many of these children suffer a major setback in their education after fleeing their war-torn homelands.

– Br Nicholas Harsas

Br Nicholas said that the school community was determined to reach out and “do all it can” to help the new students settle-in and ease their burdens.

“Many of these children suffer a major setback in their education after fleeing their war-torn homelands. Some of them experience trauma, while others arrive with little or no English and are expected to follow instructions,” he added.

The school has adopted a range of strategies to support the inclusion of the families including a trained social worker to assist them to deal with trauma, and an Arabic liaison person to support communication with parents. Classroom teachers are also receiving support in the classroom and specialist teachers are providing the children with one-on-one attention.

Sydney’s catholic school system has long supported the educational, emotional and financial support of newly arrived students to ease their transition into school life from trauma counselling, pastoral support and intensive English classes to assistance for teachers and teachers aides as well as meeting the costs of tutition fees and school uniforms.

Since 2011, SCS’ Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) has helped families from refugee backgrounds access the high quality education that they deserve by providing bursaries worth up to $3,000 per year for primary students and up to $5000 per year for secondary students. The CEF has helped more than 120 refugee students obtain an education in the past three years.

Refugees face a variety of barriers trying to access their fundamental right to an education. Globally, only 36 per cent go to secondary school and less than one per cent have the opportunity to pursue a higher education.

Pope Francis has long urged Catholics to welcome refugees, saying the world is currently suffering from a “globalisation of indifference,” ignoring those who cry out for mercy.

“To give a child a seat at school is the finest gift you can give: to help refugees grow in self-confidence, to realise their highest inherent potential and to be able to defend their rights as individuals and communities,” the Pope said.

Families who meet the criteria for a CEF scholarship are invited to apply through their local school.

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