Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese REPORT
18 Jul 2013
18 Jul 2013
During Sydney's July school holidays students from schools across the city take a well-earned break and use the time to have fun and above all relax. But for a group of students from St Pius X College, Chatswood and St Aloysius College, Milson's Point it was also a time to spend a few days making a difference in Central Western NSW.
Over a period of five days the group travelled to Gulargambone near Dubbo to spend several days with the 70 mainly Aboriginal pupils from the local school who have few of the advantages of their city counterparts. For them once school finishes for the day they find themselves with nothing to do and no playing fields or sports grounds on which to kick a football and burn off energy.
"Finding something to do besides work or study seems to be the biggest challenge for anyone living in Gulargambone," says Jamieson Weiss, a Year 11 student from St Aloysisus College who spent time in the town late last month as part of his school's "Faith in Service" program.
"We spent the first day helping out in the school, planting trees, mulching, organising classroom cupboards and working as teacher's aides, and helping out with K-3 classes," he says.
For the small group of students some of whom were accompanied by their fathers who pitched in to help with painting, tree planting and other maintenance projects at Gulargambone Central School, there was also a chance to meet the locals as well as make friends with many of the school's students.
"For the school's teenagers and young people these visits by young student volunteers from Sydney mean a great deal," says Katie Rowe, Acting Principal of the town's school. "Their visits mean they learn from the Sydney students what life is like outside the town and in different areas of Australia. The visits also help expands their horizons. By keeping in touch with them via social media, the Sydney volunteers not only show them new possibilities. It also helps them build a network for the time when they leave school and embark on a job or career."
In charge of Gulargambone Central School where students range in age from five-year-old kindergarteners to 17 and 18 year olds in Years 11 and 12, Katie says the days spent helping out at the school and in the small rural community by St Aloysius and St Pius X students is also helping to build self-esteem and confidence among her students.
"Most of our kids haven't been outside of Gulargambone. They're unsure of how to act in new or different social situations or environments. But with Sydney students taking on mentoring roles this is starting to change," Katie says.
Thanks to the efforts of energetic live-wire, real estate agent and North Shore Mum, Jenny Carter since 2009 groups of students from many of the North Shore's Independent Catholic Schools including Monte Sant'Angelo Mercy College, Loreto Kirribilli, St Aloysius and St Pius X have made regular visits to Gulargambone to make a difference to the lives of the town's largely Aboriginal population and the 70 young people who attend the local school.
Since Jenny founded the program, the students along with volunteer Dads have formed working bees to clean up Gulargambone's riverbank, paint over graffiti and undertake maintenance at the school. Through Jenny's efforts a local op shop filled with clothes and items donated by Sydney friends, family and parents has also been established as well as gifts of knitted blankets, socks and bed jackets for patients the town's small hospital.
Last year the program was expanded further when Jenny organised for a group of Gulargambone students to spend a week in Sydney. They stayed with the Mercy Sisters in North Sydney, visited Redfern, took in a Souths NRL match and spent an afternoon at the Jewish Museum in Darlinghurst.
There are plans to bring another group to Sydney later this year.
Not content to rest there, Jenny and her team of volunteers and students with the help of St Mary's North Sydney parish and the surrounding communities are now raising funds to build a BMX-skate park for the children and teens of Gulargambone.
At present there are no recreational facilities in the town and when the kids play football it is often along the side of the road which is dangerous and puts them at risk, Katie Rowe explains.
Thanks to Jenny's enthusiasm and non-stop energy and with more than $12,000 already raised no one doubts the $28,000 still needed to build the park will be raised by the end of the year.
"The local Gilgandra and Coonamble Shire Councils have donated the land and I am seeing big concrete manufacturers to see if they'd be willing to donate and lay the slab needed," Jenny says.
Another dream of hers and Gulargambone acting principal, Katie Rowe is to establish a relationship between the little country school and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
"The small group of Indigenous students who flew to Sydney last year were taken to see Souths train. It was a fantastic opportunity for them to meet their role models and what members of the team have been able to achieve. Almost 12 months on they are still talking about the visit and how it made them feel," Katie says.
The school's students are passionate about sport and through sport learn to play in a team, play by the rules and develop social as well as co-ordination abilities. She strongly believes a connection between the school and Souths would inspire them and help them achieve their dreams.
But just as the young people of Gulargambone are responding to support and input from their peers at Sydney's more affluent schools, visits to the town have been equally life-changing for the volunteer "Faith in Service" students from St Aloysius, St Pius X, Loreto Kirribilli and Monte Sant'Angelo Colleges.
"At Gulargambone School there are five kids looking to finish Year 12 this year and three Aboriginal kids hoping to go on to university," says Thomas Slack, a Year 11 student at St Pius X College who spent time in the town last month with his younger brother, Nicholas who attends the same school and is in Year 8.
Accustomed to the easy accessibility of movies, goods, entertainment, the beach, transport and Sydney's well-stocked malls and department stores, landing in a town where many of the main street's shops are boarded up and just buying essentials means a 50 k drive to Gilgandra or Coonamble, Thomas admits his time in Gulargambone brought home to him just how lucky he and his brother are.
"Not all of the kids at the school have enough to eat each day so being able to help out at lunchtime when Jenny Carter and my mum, Glenda Mullins cooked up a huge spaghetti bolognaise and chocolate cake for lunch at the community cafe was pretty special," Thomas says.
As with the other students who spent part of this year's July school holidays in the small dusty outback town, Thomas is keen to return. In the meantime he is helping to raise funds for the skate park and keeping in touch with many of those he met at the school via social media.
He also intends keeping in touch and mentoring the Year 2 and 3 youngsters he met as a teachers' aid for the day when he helped them brush up on their English skills.
To donate to Gulargambone's skate park or to become involved as a volunteer contact Jenny Carter firstname.lastname@example.org
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