Friday 20 October 2017

Children and Childhood

During the week, I came across a distressing image of a little child being carried across a fast flowing stream as a group of baseless refugees moved across northern Greece into Macedonia, desperately looking for a home. It was a confronting and in many ways shocking image, for one small error of judgement would have seen the child swallowed by the current, and yet another life lost to the insoluble refugee problem. It is clear that while there are many children in the world, for a significant number of them, there is not much by way of childhood. Children in wealthy countries such as Australia have, for the most part, access to education, health care, proper nutrition and housing. They live in a society protected by the rule of law where democratic freedoms prevail. And, they have access to what would otherwise be considered luxuries – clean water, sporting opportunities, holidays and the option to celebrate major events such as birthdays and Christmas. Not so for the children of the world’s 65 million refugees who live in itinerant camps across the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia. The desperate situation in Syria over recent years is currently being matched by that in Myanmar, where displaced Rohingyas in their countless hundreds of thousands move to escape conflict and persecution, be that from encroaching military forces or ethnic cleansing. As our boys pulled on their sporting attire to represent their school in the various codes of sport over the weekend, as they built community and enjoyed healthy and life giving recreation, may we all be reminded that this is a grace to be truly thankful for in light of the millions of children across the world who will be looking for a home that is not hostile to them and their families.

The beauty of childhood was lived out during the week at the Regis campus when the boys in Year 6.3 became the teachers to the children of Mirrabrook. Using the theme of a module in Science called Light It Up!, the boys taught the younger children the properties of Light using experiments, Snap Circuits, Light Boxes, puppet shows and demonstrations. There was abundant joy and excitement as the little ones moved around each group laughing, learning and playing with the older boys. This was childhood in its true form, where the innocence and curiosity of youth abounded and where the extravagant joy of community was palpable. Another visit is planned for later in the term to consolidate on the complementary interface between Mirrabrook and the affairs of the Regis campus.

Despite inclement weather over the weekend, the summer sporting program, under some grey, and at times menacing skies that produced intermittent rain, was begun. The transition point to a new season can bring with it adjustments to new codes and routines but after a year or two, the young men are practised campaigners in going into action adorned with the blue and white, and, often with a different group of boys who are trying a new sporting activity – some for the first time. The life-giving benefits of sport, which brings with it team work, skill development, fitness and perhaps one of most important elements in a holistic educational program – community building, creates networks that work collaboratively for a common purpose in context of spirited competition and fair play.

A very specific group of young men arrived at Riverview over the break to spend the next five weeks in boarding and learn about life in Australia. They hail from Clongowes Wood in Ireland – a Jesuit school that educates 450 boarders from across the Emerald Isle and overseas. Begun in 1814 under the direction of Fr Peter Kenney SJ, Clongowes has forged its own distinctive reputation for educational excellence, as has its counterpart in Australia at Riverview. The founder of Riverview, Fr Joseph Dalton SJ, also spent time in Clongowes before coming to Australia to establish three schools in three years, two of which remain in Sydney and one in Melbourne. For the last decade, a reciprocal student exchange has been established between the two schools that not only benefits the boys who participate in them, but strengthens the bond between two schools on opposite sides of the world. We welcome the boys from Clongowes and wish them well as they adjust to much warmer climes and participate in this wonderful exchange program.

As the term consolidates, let us be thankful for the young men who we have the privilege as parents and teachers to work with as we form today’s tomorrow, and as part of that, let us also be mindful of the precious gift of childhood that is abundant in Australia but absent in so many countries throughout the world.

Evidence of the competitive exuberance of youth was found in abundance during the week at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre (SOPAC), when 16 Houses lined up to participate in the annual Swimming Carnival. Such an event accommodates the elite swimmers in the Championship events as well as the boys who simply wish to participate and score points for their House. And, there was a rich mix of both as one event after another hit the water and pushed the 50 metres down the pool. Indicative of how inclusive this event has become is the participation of the SEIP boys, each and every one of whom represented their House, and in so doing, assisted towards their aggregated total. Congratulations are extended to Campion House who narrowly took line honours on the day from Xavier House, however, all of the boys need to be congratulated on the spirit that they generated and responded to on the day.

Dr Paul Hine