This week is International Refugee Week. Through my work with ‘Project Help India’ we are committed to respond to the needs of those who are displaced, like the family whose house is shown in the photo. If you have a spare moment, look closely at the images above and below. I took the photo about a year ago in the city of Haridwar, near to where I spoke to a roadside gathering of children and parents as part of ‘Operation Freedom’, a police led community program which aimed to stop kids from street begging and to get them enrolled into schools. I was embarrassed to take this photo but I was captured by what I was looking at. Heart broken and crying, I just stood there, imagining the life and circumstances of this incredibly poor family.
…But look at the photos. You are looking at a home made out of rubbish, located in a car park, 100 metres from the "mighty" Ganges River. There would be at least 6 people living here. Imagine if this was your home, what hopes would you have for your future? If you were the father, what dignity and sense of worth would you have as you thought about your ability to provide and care for your family. If you were the mother, what confidence and what fears would you have for the health, education and safety of your children? These thoughts, feelings and fears are the reality for countless millions of refugees today.
Statistics tell us that there are approximately 200 000 refugees in India. However, if you stretch the definition, there are countless millions upon millions, who, impacted by the vicious cycle of poverty, are displaced - forced to move from their home to relocate from rural villages to look for work in the city. Many of these people, including children, live on the streets or in slums with little or no access to adequate sanitation, health care, education and advocacy. Because of the caste system in India, these people are ostracised and targeted. At ‘Project Help India’ we work alongside these most vulnerable people, providing schooling, nutritious meals, health check-ups, counselling and delivering short courses to up-skill young people for employment. Our parenting awareness programs teach mothers and fathers about the very real dangers of their children being exploited and trafficked. These most vulnerable children often disappear or have been sold by their parents who believed a lie that their child would have a better future rather than endure their present circumstances. It’s all incredibly sad…but with your help we are making a difference, and bringing love, dignity and purpose to the lives of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
During COVID-19 the numbers of people in India who are currently testing positive, is rapidly on the rise. We have grave concerns for the well-being and safety of many, and we are preparing for an influx of more displaced people over the coming months.
This ‘World Refugee Day’ we can have awareness, empathy, compassion and make a difference. Your donation to ‘Project Help India’ will be used to help some beautiful families who are displaced, and who live a life that is so terribly different from all of our Western comforts. With the Australian tax-year finishing in just 10 days, your donation is tax deductible…it’s a perfect time to help us to help others. Go to www.projecthelpindia.co
Recently, I have noticed an emerging and consistent theme in the conversations I’ve had with friends, colleagues and many others. Just this week I was on a Zoom meeting, catching up with friends from around the world (literally); friends from India, Kong Kong, the Netherlands, Italy, South Africa and England, and this is what they had to say…
“I’m worn out”
“I’m feeling run down”
“Not another Zoom meeting!”
“I wish I knew where this is all heading”
“This COVID is catching up with me.”
“I’m just over all of this”
This meeting really was a collection of individuals from around the globe, and the feedback of us all feeling ‘tired and fatigued’ was powerfully consistent. My friend from Mumbai said that the situation in his country is very depressing at the moment, especially in the densely populated slums. Over 15 000 people are diagnosed with COVID-19 a day in India. There is little hope for an easing of their current lockdown restrictions. The communities I work with are becoming less optimistic with worry, fear and fatigue creeping into the tone of their voice. How’s that for perspective! We are so blessed to be living in Australia.
With these thoughts, I offer the simple perspective of “let’s hang in there together”-keeping our eyes on the coming school holiday break, we need to stay patient and positive, yet be sensitive to the fact that many in our community are fatiguing and people need help. You yourself may need help, and I encourage you to reach out and connect with others.
Over these past three months our school has communicated a consistent message about how we can stay resilient and strong. Research highlighting five ways to promote wellbeing in challenging times is certainly worth revisiting as we start to feel a sense of fatigue. This research identified five behaviours that people can undertake to stay emotionally, socially and psychologically healthy. These behaviours are;
- connecting with others
- being active
- being aware and present in the moment
- ongoing learning, and;
- giving and helping others.
My School Counsellor (Ms Catherine McKersie) wrote an excellent article which summarises this research here.
“Giving and Helping Others Performing acts of kindness to others has shown to have benefits for your own well-being. Research has shown altruistic behaviour activates the area of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust and means your brain releases endorphins. Giving your time, giving your words, giving your attention to listen to someone at this time can mean so much to that other person. But it can also be good for you. Reaching out to someone can mean taking a risk. If you let someone know you are worried about them and ask them how they are going - even if they say they’re ok, your gesture has let them know someone cares enough to reach out and try to make that connection." Ms Catherine McKersie’s (School Counsellor)
Here at Claremont, we are mindful that this research applies to children, as much as it does to adults. Our teaching, activities, opportunities for involvement and other educational priorities will continue to focus on these five points right up to the final bell next Friday afternoon. One focus this coming week will be the act of helping others, and being mindful of those who are in need and less fortunate than ourselves. I am delighted that our Year 6 student leaders are organising a number of charity fundraising activities for us next week, to help the Salvation Army ‘Red Shield Appeal’ culminating in our school uniform free ‘Go Crazy Mufti day’ next Friday. Whilst the students' fundraising target is $400, I encourage our parents community to dig deep and to be generous. Rather than just giving your children some extra gold coins, encourage your children to have a baking or craft sale this weekend or to do some extra jobs around the house, so that they are actually making a conscious and deliberate act to earn some gold coins for their Mufti Day. I believe that this is where a sense of satisfaction, a healthy mindset, and healing can be found. In other words, it is good to be ‘strategic’ in our generosity, and there are many benefits not just for the recipient.”
I am excited for all that next week has to offer and am confident that our school is very well positioned to handle whatever challenges, big or small, might be ahead for us all. We can more than just “hang in there” - we can have an excellent week filled with new opportunities for learning, nice surprises, growth, lots of fun, and much happiness together, empowered by knowing that our loving and merciful God is with us each and every day.
Jesus said - “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” Matthew 11:28-30
Mr Doug Thomas
As we continue to make sense of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, this week we have also been confronted with and tried to make sense of the ugly face of racism seen in the USA, and indeed across the world. I expect that you share with me the feelings of anger and sense of horror in response to this situation. The #blacklivesmatter movement has become an urgent and necessary voice for change.
How timely, that this week in Australia it is ‘Reconciliation Week’ as we continue to work for healing, justice and a more tolerant and inclusive nation. It is so important that as a school we are teaching children to understand and apply these principles, values and attitudes to their lives… and equally that we are teaching the children through the modelling and personal example of our own lives. Surely, this is one of the most important starting points in a child’s education. It is also at the heart of being ‘inspired for life’, following Jesus’ example and His teachings, living and working towards peace in our world.
I believe that all that #blacklivesmatter movement represents, is foundational to a healthy community and is something that we must constantly reinforce and advocate for in our society. For the past five years, this has been a clearly stated priority for our school (think of our International Day last year and our annual support of the White Ribbon Day). At our Parent Vision 2020 Evening in February I spoke about the importance of us being a school community that demonstrates authentic love in action. 2020 was to be a year “framed by God’s love”. Little did I realise that what I spoke about and followed up in the newsletter that week, what was in store for us this year. Here is an excerpt from our Newsletter, 14th February;
May we be a school that is characterised by anti-racism, tolerance, an understanding of differences, inclusion and respect for one another. May we be a school that celebrates the many rich cultures and traditions, reflecting our diverse multicultural backgrounds. Let’s start and finish all we do with gratitude and appreciation and have a sense of excitement about the opportunities and possibilities for all we will do and achieve together over 2020. In these days of rapid change, I believe that we will need each other more than ever.
Back in May 2018, I wrote;
“I cannot stress enough that we do not tolerate racism at Claremont College, and we will not hesitate to respond to any issues should they arise within our school community. It was good to recognise and celebrate the diverse cultural backgrounds within our school community, and to reinforce the important message that each one of us is created in God's image, and we are loved and precious in His eyes."
I wish to highlight the wonderful ‘Reconciliation Week’ acknowledgement to country video that some of our students have created this week, along with the many student work samples from across the school (K-6). Thank you to our teachers for inspiring the children in their learning. You can watch the video HERE.
Please join with me in striving for and working towards the creation of a school community that is a safe place for all, which embodies the values of kindness, compassion and collaboration and that in itself, becomes a change agent for making this world a place that we are all proud to belong to, sowing the seeds for a brighter future for our children and all people.
‘Peacemakers who sow in peace, reap a harvest of righteousness.’ James 3:18