A group of six students from the school will experience Indigenous culture when they volunteer at Warmun’s Ngalangangpum School for one week in July. It is the eight time the immersion program has taken staff and students from the school out of their comfort zone and provided them with an opportunity for both personal and spiritual development.
Teaching and Learning coordinator Jennifer Symington said the knowledge and experience gained through the program were reflective of this year’s Catholic Schools Week theme for Sydney Catholic schools, ‘Inspiring spirits and minds’.
The Mount St Joseph community has close links to Ngalangangpum School, where students will do daily volunteer work in classrooms, interact with community elders, absorb local indigenous art and reflect on their experiences.
I can’t wait to see how their culture shapes their day to day lives.
When floods devastated the Warmun community in 2011, a team of MSJ staff went up to help move the school into temporary facilities. Former MSJ Hospitality teacher Leanne Hodge was then the remote school’s principal.
“Mount St Joseph has a strong connection with Ngalangangpum school that goes beyond our shared Josephite ideals,” Ms Symington said.
“Past MSJ students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have returned enriched by the cross-cultural relationships they have developed with the Kija people in Warmun.
“The Kija community have a deep personal connection with the land. Participating in traditional ceremonies at their sacred sites as well as Ngapuny time [Catholic prayer] contributes to the spiritual enlightenment of the MSJ community. This is true for not just the girls and staff on the trip, but for their family and friends on their return.”
Students will take two flights and drive for three hours to reach their host community after collecting a weeks’ worth of food and supplies. While there they will be outside their comfort zone, sharing basic accommodation and without mobile phone reception.
Parent Tracy New said the Warmun experience left a lasting impression on her daughters, Erin and Courtney, who visited the community during the school’s last immersion in 2015.
“To be welcomed into a community that was unknown to them, to be able to work with the teachers and students, and to have a cross-cultural experience that was so different to anything they have experienced before was invaluable,” she said.
Year 11 student Caitlin Grove will be among the Warmun 2017 visitors from MSJ.
“Meeting the families at Warmun will be such an opportunity for me,” she said. “I can’t wait to see how their culture shapes their day to day lives.”
A development opportunity for Mount St Joseph’s Year 12 leaders turned into personal and career inspiration for one.
School Vice Captain Jorji Simpson visited Vietnam in January to volunteer at a residential centre for children and teenagers with disabilities in Hanoi. She was inspired to apply for the Global Youth Ambassador Program at an Elevate Young Leaders Forum which she attended at the University of Wollongong with her leadership peers in 2016.
Jorji said she was challenged by seeing the children at the centre. Many of their disabilities were caused by the chemical ‘Agent Orange’ used during the Vietnam War. Up to six children shared each cot.
“It was eye-opening,” she said. “This was my first trip overseas and the conditions at the centre were just so different to what you’d expect in a similar facility in Australia.”
Jorji now hopes to study Medical Science when she graduates from Mount St Joseph and to work with Médecins Sans Frontières.