At the start of the September holidays, I spent 10 days in Thailand with a group of seven students in Year 11 and 12, and 2 other members of staff. Having prepared students for this for the last three years, and having the opportunity to discuss the experience with them on their return, makes me realise how valuable an opportunity it is for these young men to realise the privilege into which they were born.
Today the boys had the opportunity to debrief with the lovely Caitie Humphrys from Marist Youth Ministry QLD, and this was for me an opportunity to sit back and listen, rather than playing the usual role of directing questions to explore the meaning and impact of the different experiences and elements of the trip. We spent a weekend in a village of Myanmese migrants, and three days in the Marist Centre for Migrants, a school for Myanmese children. Having the opportunity to witness the simplicity of their lives, and yet the happiness in that, encourages us to re-evaluate what is important in our own. We gave nothing but our presence, a few colouring in sheets, and some sports balls, and yet we were able to connect on a deep level with our brothers and sisters. We played in the mud, we visited homes, we were simply there.
The first thing the students wanted to talk about today was their experience of feeling gratitude for the privileges they have enjoyed, and taking the time to notice them more often, and remember the situations they experienced. I, for one, say a silent prayer of thanks for hot running water every time I have a shower now! The boys in particular noted that they were surprised that within a very small geographical area there are extremes from migrants with limited resources to bustling city life with its usual accompaniment of chain stores.
Caitie guided the boys to think about the entitlement culture that exists in Australia today, and encouraged them to apply their experience of considering their privileges in any situation they encounter, wherever there are differences of a socio-economic nature, when they encounter racism or sexism or other forms of prejudice, or in their everyday interactions with people from a different walk of life. If the biggest impact on these boys’ lives is for them to consider their privileges as they encounter others, they will be on track to become effective global citizens with social consciences, who will hopefully work against the counter-current of entitlement for a more just society and world.
This immersion, then, could not be more Marist, in following St Marcellin Champagnat’s vision to teach young people to become good Christians and good citizens.