JRS has been honoured to work with schools to raise awareness for refugees, people seeking asylum and other forcibly displaced people. This article was contributed by two students from Saint Ignatius College in Geelong; Maddie Crothers (College Captain) and Isabella Harry (Social Justice Captain). The school has participated in some potent actions to support our work in advocating, serving and accompanying people seeking asylum and refugees.
Saint Ignatius College in Geelong recently offered senior students the opportunity to raise awareness for refugees through participating in “The Cage” during Refugee Week. This activity had more than 30 students and four staff staying behind temporary fencing for a 22-hour period in order to raise awareness about the hardships faced by refugees. The students and staff stayed in “The Cage” throughout the day and slept outside on yoga mats through the night. During the school day many classes came to visit The Cage, where the students participating shared the current issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers and how to advocate for change. There were also a number of activities at lunchtime on the day of “The Cage” including banner signing and letter writing.
Some students also participated in the “Ration Challenge” in which students were challenged to eat meals that were similar to those of refugees. This included simple ingredients like a small ration of rice, lentils, kidney beans, flour and sardines. Some students participated in the “Ration Challenge” for 3 days and some for 7 days. There were more than 40 students and about 8 staff who took part in the “Ration Challenge”.
In support of the “Ration Challenge” the dinner for the participants in “The Cage” was plain rice and lentils. Spices could only be added after raising a certain amount of money. Students expressed the difficulties through the fact many could not finish the challenge or used spices in order to make the meals more edible, and also realising this is not an option for refugees in camps. Participants in the “Ration Challenge” also raised money for refugees and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia.
In the afternoon, JRS Schools Engagement Coordinator, Anne Nesbit alongside Deruka Dekuek, (pictured below), a refugee from South Sudan, came to share the work JRS is currently doing. Currently JRS is working in over 52 countries to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugess and other forcibly displaced persons, the JRS head office in Sydney offers casework support, accommodation, community activities, a legal clinic, assistance into the workforce as well as food bank for refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia.
JRS Kenya supported Deruka Dekuek in receiving a scholarship to a university in Australia. Deruka Dekuek shared her experience in which she was forced to leave her home after it was set on fire by rebels and then had to live in a swamp for 7 years. Following this, she lived in a refugee camp until she could be resettled. Later, she started her education at the age of 16, in which she received top marks in all her subjects. The opportunity for her to move to Australia allowed herself and 5 other children to receive an education. Now, she is a popular advocate for JRS and has completed a Masters degree.
This activity was extremely valuable and we are all excited to educate others and advocate change throughout our community. This exercise has motivated all students who attended and has encouraged us to follow the school motto and “Be the Difference”.
On average refugees spend 17 years in a UN refugee camp. To help advocate change 32 senior students and 4 dedicated teachers slept on the concrete next to the basketball courts. This included spending 22 hours in the cage. Two guest speakers Anne Nesbit from Jesuit Refugee Service and Deruka Dekuek a refugee from Sudan spoke to the group about Australia’s current efforts and what we can do to help make change. Despite having a cold, uncomfortable sleep the students all had a lot of fun.
Both events, “The Cage” and the “Ration Challenge” were organised by Alicia Deak, the Ignatian Coordinator, and Justice and Service Coordinator at Saint Ignatius College Geelong, as part of the College’s support for Refugee Week. The theme for Refugee Week this year is ‘A World of Stories’.
By Maddie Crothers (College Captain) and Isabella Harry (Social Justice Captain)
JRS is grateful to St Ignatius College for walking with us in our mission to advocate for refugees and people seeking asylum.
Special thanks to Paul Lewis (Deputy Principal), the students at St Ignatius College for your solidarity actions, Alicia Deak (Ignatian Coordinator and Justice Service Coordinator) and we thank Maddie Crothers and Isabella Harry for providing this excellent article.
We are also very grateful to Deruka Dekuek for sharing her remarkable story with the school.