Students at two Anglican schools have been living out their faith in very visible ways this year, with a huge outpouring of generosity towards former refugee families arriving in greater Wellington.
For the students of Chilton St James School, their service has helped them learn about inequality. “It raises awareness that we have so much, and that we can be grateful,” says Azmarah Maniparathy, a Year 13 student and service captain at the school. “It’s been really easy to collect the household items because most of it is stuff we all have anyway, yet [the former refugees] have nothing.” The school’s chaplain, Rev Caro Willis, tells us that Azmarah and her team set up a Google Doc with all the items required for the family assigned to them, and shared it around the school. “Within two days it was full. Stuff just poured in! We were blown away!”
Amy Cooper is the Head of Service at Samuel Marsden Collegiate, and also a Year 13 student. She tells us that her peers also have an acute awareness of their position of privilege, and the responsibility they have to be conduits of blessing to those families arriving into New Zealand. She notes that her friend who arrived from Colombia as a refugee remembers the moment they walked into their new home as “the happiest moment.” Her school assigned each class with a set of items to collect or fundraise for. She tells us that there was a strong sense of collegiality amongst the school’s students as they contributed to this cause.
And the efforts of the girls tie in well with their schools’ Anglican heritage and the teaching of Christian values. “It really shows us the meaning of ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you,’” Amy notes. However in Azmarah’s case, her work for former refugees is carrying on a legacy of paying forward what her family has already experienced. Her parents both came to New Zealand as skilled migrants from Sri Lanka in their early twenties and met each other here, however her father had experienced internal displacement during the Sri Lankan Civil War. “I’m really lucky to have not been in that position,” she says. Her father, having a deep empathy for refugees, volunteered with the Red Cross and helped two former refugee families. “I was about ten years old at the time,” Azmarah shares. “Both families had children my age, so I used to play with them.”
Caro reflects on what this means for the students’ character formation. “I really want to connect this experience with an understanding of God’s outpouring of generosity for His people,” she tells us. Given the groundswell of support, and the excitement and encouragement of their senior students, this looks like it will become a memorable and life-long lesson for our Anglican schools’ students.
Photo: Chilton St James students (from L-R) Elesha Wester, Charlotte Andrews, Rosabelle Macmanus and Azmarah Maniparathy at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul to pick up the goods donated by their school community and take them to the house assigned to them for setting up.