Several diocesan schools have embraced the diocese’s efforts to welcome former refugees, by collecting household items for incoming families. In the latest Red Cross intake, the communities of Samuel Marsden Collegiate School, Huntley School, Hadlow Preparatory School and Rathkeale College were among those who provided items to outfit new homes for these families.
Teaching generosity and a sense of otherness to students has been a core motivation for schools to be involved. “We are people with much,” says Philippa Young, Chaplain at Hadlow Preparatory School in Masterton, adding that students have really responded to the project in a positive way. Huntley School’s Alison Stewart tells us that tolerance, kindness, responsibility and service are core school values, and this project has made those values come alive to students in a fresh way – whilst also teaching them about the life of refugees.
The project has offered schools the opportunity to express solidarity not only with former refugees, but with the wider diocesan family. In seeing the efforts of parishes to support the work, the schools involved rallied together to see if they could co-ordinate an entire intake amongst them. Philippa felt that this was a matter of “being part of the diocese, and thinking beyond ourselves.”
The approach of thinking more broadly has also had positive impacts on the students themselves, and the wider school communities. Dale Walterhouse, Chaplain at Rathkeale College, sees it as important to broaden his students’ perspectives on service by showing them “other ways of weaving your life into the community,” than typical acts of service such as chopping firewood for those in need. Likewise, Samuel Marsden Collegiate’s Sarah King tells us that the school’s social justice programmes are about “moving the girls from charity to practical action.” These approaches are reaping rewards, with staff, parents and students alike all getting on board and embracing the culture of service of each school.
“Even our boarding families have sent in items,” says Dale, noting that the majority of his students are non-Christian. “We’re all still human – and this [project] strikes at the heart of social responsibility. It starts a conversation by which we can ask ‘why are we called to serve and love our neighbours?'”
The community is embracing the fact that service is just the way things are done at Rathkeale. This reputation is spreading , with the local district council now entering a memorandum of understanding with the school to plant and care for a food forest, as a way of providing for the needs of the community. At Hadlow, the refugee resettlement collection has been a nice springboard off other events, like the 40 Hour Famine. “We’ve taken a multi-faceted approach,” says Philippa. She says that as she has taken classes to the “growing pile of [donated] stuff in our foyer,” and talked through the issues, there is a really positive response. She has also explained the responsibility for prayer to her students, who have made prayer posters alongside their efforts to tangibly give.
Offering opportunities like this over and over is important for young people, she says. “Hopefully it becomes embedded that that’s how we live.” For both Philippa and Dale, ongoing re-telling of the stories keeps the message constantly in the minds of their young people, with a hope that this will impact their sense of neighbourliness in the years to come. Over time, Dale hopes these kinds of projects will grow a sense of social responsibility in his students, explaining that “we’re here because we share life together.”
Photo: Huntley School students, dressed up for the school’s book character day, sort through household items destined for an incoming family of former refugees. Credit: Alison Stewart, Huntley School.