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Year 9 traveled to remote areas of Australia and Southeast Asia on Service Learning Tours over the holiday break. Head of Middle School Ms Carolyn Shaw described the tours as a balance between cultural immersion and service projects. “The service component is what they get the most out of,” Ms Shaw says. “They really love the physical aspect, and seeing how things are done differently elsewhere.”
Before heading to Kununurra, the regional centre of the Eastern Kimberley, Zara hoped to get an understanding of "how people in different communities live, what traditions they carry on, and how their lifestyles compare to ours".
After spending time with Indigenous families in Darwin, the girls flew to a very humid Kununurra, where they partnered with Save the Children to run after school activities at the Youth Hub. They met with community leaders and learned about local challenges, including a tragically high rate of youth suicide.
“On one of the days,” Claudia reflected, “after we finished working for a decent four or five hours, we went to the school in the village with the kids and played Touch Football and Rugby. The pitch was muddy and everyone was falling over! It was a great break and we all went to swim in the river afterwards.”
The girls camped at Lake Argyle, where they built fire pits and met the elders at the Juniper Kununurra Community Care facility. They delivered meals and spoke to ladies at a local women’s shelter. Ms Shaw says these tours are largely about those conversations. “The girls are learning their stories and developing their own thoughts about Indigenous culture, rather than accepting what they hear on the news or listening to other people’s opinions.”
“What I took home was how diverse we all are,” Zara said, “and no matter what the social situation is, you need to be willing to put yourself out there to get to know people and their stories.”
Molly travelled to the east Pilbara region with her group. Arriving at the Western Australian city of Newman was eye opening, compared to the rural community of Jigalong, where the girls conducted their service projects, with its tiny population of 400.
The girls arrived in Newman to do a tour of Mount Whaleback Mine. But before going inside, they bumped into Wenonian alumna Ella Geddes (2009). Ella works as a Geophysicist and Geologist for BHP Billiton in the region. She spoke to the girls about her work in mining and her role on the company's inclusion and diversity committee, which aims to see 50:50 gender parity by 2025.
But the most time was spent on the edge of the Gibson Desert at Jigalong, also known as the home of Molly Kelly from Doris Pikington Garimara’s Rabbit Proof Fence. There the girls ran a school holiday program with local children, organising sport, craft activities and tie-dying t-shirts.
“Breaking down barriers and learning to establish trust is a big part of building those relationships," Ms Shaw said. “Sport allows those barriers to be broken down. It establishes a baseline to start a conversation.”
Amelia had looked forward to immersing herself in a village in Laos and gaining an appreciation of what life was like there. But she didn’t realise how vibrant the community would be, how much they would pull together as a community and be so filled with gratitude.
The girls arrived in Lao’s capital, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Phabang, explored the temples, and learned about the town’s history. They spent time at the Laos Elephant Conservation Centre and learned about animal protection.
They later stayed with local families in the small mountain village of Nong Tok, where they worked together to build a toilet block for the school, including digging a hole for the septic tank.
At Big Brother Mouse, a non-profit that promotes literacy and publishes Lao books, the girls read books and conversed with locals to help them with their English. "They took to it so naturally," Ms Shaw said.
Towards the end of their trip, they gave morning alms to the monks, which Ms Shaw said was a real learning curve and cultural experience. “Understanding the monks don’t possess anything, that anything they eat is given to them, was huge,” she said.
Georgia was looking forward to learning about the the culture of Borneo, but didn’t expect to have such an integrated experience working with children in the community. “It wasn’t just one or two people saying ‘this is how you do it’, but everyone pitched in and were looked after really well,” Georgia said. “We got a sense of community in a greater sense, rather than ‘we are just coming in to help.’”
Her group spent time in Mentu village, where they renovated a veranda at the community longhouse, which is a home for the people in the village. The veranda has cultural importance, not only as dinners, festivals and functions are held there, but the veranda is where people pay their last respects to those who die. They were able to socialise with the locals in the evening, "learning the essence of community life," as Ms Shaw put it, and speaking with the village chief.
The most challenging part of the trip was the heat. “And not just the heat, but working in the heat, mixing cement in the heat,” Marnie said. “Everything was very physically challenging, but at the end of the day, was worth it.”
Ms Shaw says the girls were particularly reflective about the experience in Borneo: "They were moved by the fact that children were so keen to learn, but had to share classrooms with two stages, one teacher and minimal resources."