Palm Sunday on a balmy afternoon
Protests can be intimidating, especially if you have never been to one before. Four of our students, Rosemary, Jennifer, Joanna and Christina were courageous enough to join the Justice and Democracy staff to show support for refugees and asylum seekers.
As we travelled into the Palm Sunday rally on the train, we were a little disheartened that the weather wasn’t in our favour, as we thought such weather would affect the turnout for the day. The news of the shaky refugee – US deal had created further uncertainty for the people in offshore detention and for those who were supporting them. A good show of numbers was important for this event.
As we waited at our meeting point at Melbourne Central, our optimism returned, as we watched a flood of spirited people making their way to the frontline of the protest at the State Library. Purple clad grandmothers (Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children), teenagers and children with home-made placards, people from the country and many more passionate advocates, made their way despite the cold, rainy Sunday. We were inspired by their passion for this cause.
We joined a shivering crowd of people including our friends from BASP and other schools, including Kilbreda. Just being surrounded with fellow supporters rejuvenated our sense of purpose. The students were enlightened by the many speeches from refugees and advocates alike.
“Hearing speeches from the refugees, sharing their stories opened up our eyes to the countless lives of those who are left unknowing and lost in detention centres as well as the endless families that are separated from each other,” Rosemary said.
One of the speeches was by a representative from RISE (Refugee Survivors and Ex-detainees). She spoke very passionately about the lack of inclusion when advocates create organisations and events with little or no collaboration with refugees and ex-detainees themselves, who are at the heart of this issue. This is an example of where subsidiarity needs to be put in practice and we must all ask ourselves “Who’s going to benefit?” when taking action for social justice.
We heard many stories of suffering and bravery. A nurse who worked on Nauru told us of the squalid conditions people are living in and the absence of adequate health care. “These people are being mentally tortured by our government,” she said.
As a nurse, she has a duty of care and must do no harm. As teachers, our responsibility is to educate and inspire. We have the opportunity to help young people grow and learn. Teachers are also under obligation to protect children and report abuse. This is the core of our profession and the core of humanity.
When the speeches were over we walked through the streets of Melbourne
in an expression of solidarity with people in detention. It felt good to be taking some form of action even if it was only to raise awareness of this issue.
Killester is a school that benefits from diversity and I am proud to belong to a place that welcomes all, including the most vulnerable. Our values of Strength and Kindliness run strong in our students and staff – and Australia, right now, could truly benefit from these values.
As a teacher and a human being I cannot ignore the suffering of other people, particularly young people who, in different circumstances, could be students in my classroom. They would come to school, chat at lunchtimes and put off their homework and grow and learn, just like many of Killester’s students.
This year is the year of courage. Our students grow in strength and kindliness, while young refugees have no such education or nurturing. We must have the courage to talk about this among ourselves and to those who don’t want to listen.
The Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project (BASP) website has resources and information, so let us read and talk about it. The Killester community looks out for each other, and I believe we can extend this kindness to our fellow students who cannot be learning with us. Give hope to each other and keep talking. Even one conversation can be a snowflake in an avalanche.
By Maree Edwards and Jess Hackett