“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship” — Brené Brown
It started off as a simple excursion; a fun trip away from school to visit the kids of Jarjum College in Redfern. But by the end of the day, the students of Holy Spirit College Bellambi came away having an experience they won’t soon forget – appreciating the power of human connection and valuing the start of beautiful, lasting friendships between the students and both schools.
Led by Holy Spirit’s Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Education Liaison, Kelli Grose, the Bellambi students, ranging from Years 8-11, visited Jarjum College as the first of many reciprocal visits planned between the schools for 2019 and beyond. But neither school’s staff were expecting quite how easily their students bonded and how movingly they embraced each other in such a short space of time.
Jarjum College educates urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from Kindergarten to Year 6, who may not be participating or coping in mainstream primary schools as a result of their domestic circumstances. The college aims to, among other things, alleviate the social, emotional, behavioural and health disadvantages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children so they can return to mainstream schooling, and have the opportunity to pursue secondary education.
Holy Spirit has worked with Jarjum College to establish this connection and organise recurring visits for valuable mutual benefit. For the Jarjum students, to have fellow, older students to look up to, and to reinforce that there are people who care about them and are in their corner, supporting them to succeed. Meanwhile for the Holy Spirit students, the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with students who may not be as fortunate as they are, and explore the depths of empathy and kindness that they are capable of – tying in well with the school’s theme this year of ‘compassion’.
What the students said:
“I loved visiting Jarjum College. It reminded me that we are lucky and privileged to have a big school with everything we need, and that some people aren't so lucky but are still happy and continue to smile,” Year 8 student, Ruby said.
“The Jarjum visit made me really appreciate my family and what I have in life. The students of Jarjum are faced with adversity and many have unhappiness in their lives through no fault of their own, yet they greeted us with huge smiles and made us feel welcome at their school,” Year 11’s Euan said.
“I can't wait to see the kids from Jarjum again. They were really cool. It was rewarding to spend the day at Jarjum College and to interact and play a game of touch footy with the kids. Hopefully, we will see them again very soon and at other times in the future,” Preston from Year 10 added.
Ms Grose said in twenty years of teaching, she had never been more moved or humbled.
“The impact of the visit was enormous for all involved. The Holy Spirit students were phenomenal – their compassion and kindness warmed everyone’s hearts and allowed the Jarjum students, who were at first apprehensive, to feel comfortable and safe in their presence. The students of Jarjum all have stories, mostly of hardship; but despite this, they welcomed us into their school, their lives and their hearts” – Kelli Grose, teacher, Holy Spirit College
“One of the many moving moments was with one young boy who asked one of our students, Preston, if he could hold his hand. He didn’t let go for hours! Another was a game of touch football between students, which saw huge smiles all-round,” she said.
“But perhaps the most humbling part was when it was time to leave and the Jarjum students made us promise to return. The Holy Spirit students were not released from big bear hugs until they had made a very firm promise to return in the near future. A promise we will certainly be keeping!”
The excursion has continued to have an effect on the Holy Spirit students well beyond the day at Jarjum College, as many of the students’ parents quickly noticed.
“Our son came home and was the most chatty and connected with the family he has been for a long time. The visit had a big impact on him and made him appreciate what he has. I think it was a very valuable experience for him” — Bec and Jas, parents, Holy Spirit College
“Thanks for organising such a great day for the kids. Our son absolutely loved today. He kept smiling when he was talking about it. He can’t wait for the Jarjum students to come to Holy Spirit. Thank you,” another parent, Jackie wrote.
Principal of Jarjum College, Matthew Smith, expressed his gratitude to Holy Spirit for their visit, thanking the “young elders” and describing the day as “deadly!”.
“Our students really enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with some older kids, who they can see as role models. They loved having a chance to start building relationships and to show the Holy Spirit mob around Redfern,” he said.
“They have also spoken about the visit since, saying that it’s nice to know there are people like them all over the state, and that there are kids who take an interest in them. They’re now really keen to head down to Bellambi on the train and check out the Holy Spirit students’ school!” he said.
“All the staff present witnessed something very special on the day. We are extremely excited to see where this ongoing connection – and wonderful opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young Indigenous children – could lead in the future” — Kelli Grose, teacher, Holy Spirit College
This new relationship between the schools is timely, as we celebrate National Reconciliation Week 2019 and its theme: ‘Grounded in Truth. Walk Together with Courage’.
National Reconciliation Week (NRW) runs annually from 27 May - 3 June – dates that commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey: the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision, respectively. It is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.
On the NRW 2019 theme: “Grounded in Truth. Walk Together with Courage”...
Reconciliation must live in the hearts, minds and actions of all Australians as we move forward, creating a nation strengthened by respectful relationships between the wider Australian community, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To foster positive race relations, our relationship must be grounded in a foundation of truth.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long called for a comprehensive process of truth-telling about Australia’s colonial history. Our nation’s past is reflected in the present, and will continue to play out in future unless we heal historical wounds.
Today, 80 per cent of Australians believe it is important to undertake formal truth telling processes, according to the 2018 Australian Reconciliation Barometer. Australians are ready to come to terms with our history as a crucial step towards a unified future, in which we understand, value and respect each other.
Whether you’re engaging in challenging conversations or unlearning and relearning what you know, this journey requires all of us to walk together with courage. This National Reconciliation Week, we invite Australians from all backgrounds to contribute to our national movement towards a unified future.
— Reconciliation Australia
More information on Reconciliation Week at Reconciliation Australia’s website. For more information on Catholic Education Diocese of Wollongong’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education program, click here.