A group of Armidale students have discovered that amidst some of the poorest living conditions in Australia, trust, honesty and friendship can cross all boundaries.
For 10 days including NAIDOC Week, three boys, two fathers and a staff member from The Armidale School, accompanied by a similar number of girls and staff from New England Girls’ School, helped run an inaugural school holiday activities program at Yipirinya School at Alice Springs, an independent school for disadvantaged Aboriginal children.
TAS was invited to help with the initiative due to its links with Yipirinya, where the current principal is former TAS Headmaster Ken Langford-Smith and former TAS Counsellor James Howey is also on staff.
As part of the daily routine, the group would travel on school buses to pick up children from town and bush camps, some of which have been identified as having amongst the poorest living conditions in Australia, with up to 20 family members in housing with poor sanitation. During the day, organised sporting, craft and science activities engaged the children, who were also given nourishing meals in a safe and positive environment.
“I had been a bit hesitant to go, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. To see those conditions here in Australia was confronting, but it was a really great experience,” said Year 10 student Ben Moffatt. Added Liam Treavors: “We came back knowing that material possessions don’t buy happiness, and how fortunate we are.”
Trip co-leader Tim Hughes said over the week a real sense of trust and friendship developed, and special bonds forged.
“It was at times very confronting but ultimately very rewarding, as our group stepped out of their comfort zones and gave so much of themselves,” he said. “To the Yipirinya children, the presence of two fathers being present with their own sons was also a powerful role model, and both the fathers also made a significant impact on the older boys in their own right.”
The service week was bookended by some sightseeing at Alice Springs and a three day cultural expedition to Kings Canyon, Uluru and Kuta Tjuta, including a sacred Aboriginal site not open to the public.
“It was a powerful experience for all, and it was a privilege to help those living in what many consider to be third World conditions, right here in Australia,” Mr Hughes said.