Ten-year-old Tawonga often had to miss school because she was too sick from hunger. The youngest of six children, Tawonga was born in a region of Malawa plagued by food insecurity and poverty. For most of her life, her parents struggled to put meals on the table. The family has also faced discrimination in their community due to Tawonga having a disability.
With support from Caritas Australia, Tawonga’s life has been transformed. Her family now grows enough food to provide three meals a day, ending her struggle of malnutrition, and helping her thrive at school.
“It gives me hope that I will finish my education,” Tawonga said. “Although I sometimes face discrimination, my community now understands that my living with a disability is not inability.”
This heart-warming story was one of six shared at the Diocese of Wollongong’s Caritas Australia Project Compassion launch – the annual Lenten campaign that sees millions of Australians come together in solidarity with the world's poor to help end poverty, promote justice and uphold dignity.
To mark the beginning of Lent, Catholic schools from across the diocese gathered as one faith-filled community at St Benedict’s Catholic College, Oran Park to launch the Wollongong appeal.
The 2020 Project Compassion theme, ‘Go further together’, reminds us that we are part of a global community and that together we can go further.
"Project Compassion has become part of the Church’s Lenten practice and there is no better time than the season of Lent for expressing our solidarity for those who are most vulnerable, isolated and marginalised,” said Caritas Diocesan Director for the Diocese of Wollongong, Monica Ward-McCann. “Lent enables us to put our compassion into action, creating the heart of a true neighbour.”
Peter Hill, Director of Schools for the Diocese of Wollongong, invited students to be curious about their faith and how they live it out during the season of Lent. “As part of our rich Catholic tradition, it's important to reach out to others who are in need” Mr Hill said. “Spend some time with God in a time of prayer and think about fasting in a different way. Rather than giving up something, try doing something extra, like a random act of kindness to help someone else.”
St Benedict’s student, Emilia Carroll, spoke of the importance of raising awareness of extreme poverty and the issues many people in the world face on a daily basis. “We are all members of the one human family, all equally worthy of support, love, mercy and respect,” she said.
This message was echoed by Most Rev Brian G Mascord DD, Bishop of Wollongong. “Through Project Compassion we begin to relive God’s love in the support we give to others, by the simple things we do to be aware of the vulnerable and the marginalised," he said. "Being aware and doing something about it becomes the essence of what our Lenten journey is because each and every one of us in some way is vulnerable and marginalised and we need to respect each other because of that.”
Bishop Brian challenged students to be examples of God’s love in their school communities. “In many ways, our actions are more important than what we put in the Project Compassion box,” he said. “We are called to show love to others every single day, so the example I want you to give in your schools is to be that sign of God’s faithful love for the whole of our community.”
During the liturgy, school representatives from the diocese signed a covenant of compassion on behalf of all attendees, as a symbol of the collective commitment to help the poor of the world. Each school received a Project Compassion mission box and candle to take back to their schools, presented by Bishop Brian and Mrs Ward-McCann.
Congratulations to all student representatives for their participation in the liturgy, and their commitment to support others meet their immediate and most basic human needs.