The investment and energy involved by the college administration and by members of staff in this process is quite considerable, and the results for the participating students (and staff!) can quietly prove to be life-changing. For Villanova College at Coorparoo (Brisbane) this overseas outreach involved twenty-four students (aged 15 to 18 years) and five staff being in the southern Philippines during the term break in September 2013.Fr Peter Wieneke O.S.A. (College Chaplain) accompanied the group. He reflected, “Over the two weeks of their stay the students sang and danced while being the recipients of many presentations of Filipino culture; they mixed and poured concrete, painted, dug, gardened, helped construct a shelter and planted mangrove saplings; they played basketball, volleyball, and badminton with students of all ages and, in defeat, learnt how talented their hosts are; they visited the homes of some of the students whose school fees are financially supported by the students of Villanova.”He continued, “Each night they spent time reflecting on the day’s experiences. Following the Cardin process of ‘see, judge and act’ they tried to make sense of the poverty they encountered and at times they shed a tear of compassion or confusion. It was not too many days before they realized they were receiving more than they were giving. The efforts of eleven such visits in recent years have contributed to the ‘building of the kingdom of justice and peace’.” The 2013 group was photographed in front of the eighteenth-century Augustinian basilica in Cebu just days before an earthquake toppled its belltower.
Margaret McElhone, Mission Advisor at St Augustine’s College at Brookvale in Sydney, wrote, “The College’s social justice program is called the ‘SEA’, which stands for Service, Education and Awareness. Through SEA the College aims to provide students with the opportunity to be involved in a range of social justice projects that, whilst allowing the student himself to grow personally and learn through such experiences, assists to make the world a better place for those less fortunate than themselves. “St Augustine’s College has supported first-hand many worthwhile projects over the past six years including the TMMR Orphanage in the Philippines, ‘Who Will’ Village in Cambodia and the Disabled Services Association in Nepal. Due to the success of previous projects in Nepal the College returned there for two weeks in October 2013, giving seven staff and sixteen Year Ten students the opportunity to be immersed in another culture and walk along side those less fortunate than themselves. Through first hand experiences they were challenged physically, emotionally and spiritually.”
“When the group arrived in Kathmandu, they were formed into two smaller groups for the service component of the venture. The group sent to the Bhairabi Primary School (see photos above) stayed in tents with incredible views of the valley and snow-capped mountains in the distance, with toilet facilities being a hole in the ground and wash facilities being a water pipe to be shared with the local villagers. Whilst there, the team worked alongside local tradesmen to complete the following jobs; erecting a perimeter fence around the school to protect from wandering water buffalo (including digging holes for the concrete fence posts), building and rendering a wall at the entrance to the school (to create a safer environment for the children), creating a landscaped gully for the monsoon rain to escape, and finally, our biggest challenge, building tiered seating into the side of the slope to provide the children with an area to sit at recess, lunch and at school assemblies. “
William Shakespeare wrote that the quality of mercy “is twice blest, it blesses him who gives and him who takes.” In the long term, the giver receives more than he has given. The most lasting effect of building a fence in a school yard in the Philippines or Nepal may not emerge until possibly ten or even thirty years from now. This could occur far away from the Philippines or Nepal after the fence built there in 2013 has probably fallen down or maybe even been replaced by a better fence. Decades hence evidence of a lasting effect will hopefully be evident in the attitude and response of these former students to life and work situations in Sydney or Brisbane whenever they are challenged with the opportunity to respond in their workplace or neighbourhood to situations of inequality, the plight of the underprivileged and social injustice. What is his response? Now that he is his own person and in a position to make a difference, does he then put up walls? Or does he build another fence? Does he help build a better world?
A fence built in the hills of Nepal or in the valleys of the southern Philippines is not the end of the story, but hopefully just the beginning.