Friday 30 April 2021

In the Service of Others

Last Sunday the nation paused to commemorate ANZAC Day: the significance of the occasion and all those who have fallen in war and conflict on Australia’s behalf. It is a day of solemnity and respect, one that acknowledges the ultimate sacrifice made by those who have committed to military causes that are believed to be righteous and just. In more recent times, ANZAC Day is an opportunity not only to remember those who have died but those who have survived and been so adversely affected by the experience of war – soldiers and civilians alike. War remains one of the unfathomable enigmas of the human condition that has propelled individuals, ideologies and political causes over the ages to armed conflict and resulted in such hardship, trauma and suffering for all who live through it. While there has been no major international armed conflict over recent years, the impact of localised wars in the Middle East, Africa and in other regions of the world have resulted in dire consequences for the men, women and children whose lives are so dreadfully affected. A whole school assembly was held in the Ramsay Hall on Monday to acknowledge the 120 Old Boys who have died in war, and the hundreds who have served their country in military conflict since the Boer War (1899-1902). May they rest in peace.

The importance of service and social justice is a central pillar of Jesuit education and one that is regarded as the sine qua non of the educational program at Riverview. It is in serving the other that a deep sense of Christ’s message in Matthew’s gospel (Ch 25) is felt, ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me’. The verb do is instructive: the least refers to those whose lives are affected by disadvantage and disability – the aged and infirm, the unemployed, the homeless and those who find themselves the object of institutional marginalisation and debasement. The full conduct of the service program has been in abeyance at the College due to COVID, but as other elements of the educational program are being progressively restored, so too is the service program. During the week, arrangements were put into place for the boarders to resume their work with the Loaves and Fishes Café, which provides meals for those who are victims of intergenerational poverty and who are supported by crisis management and welfare agencies. Other service programs are being gradually reinstated, although it will be some time before we return to the full interface on a community level, particularly with visitation programs to aged care facilities. It is even hoped that the Ignatian Children’s Camp, which is an acute respite activity involving senior students upon completion of school, will be undertaken later this year, after its period of recess during the latter stages of the COVID period.

During the week the College was contacted by Tom O’Brien (OR2013), who is undertaking some outstanding work with the Liger Academy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Tom was the recipient of the Patrick Rodgers Award for Service, eponymously named in honour of Patrick Rodgers (OR2011) who died in 2017 while serving the needs of some of the most disadvantaged in Battambang in northern Cambodia. Tom’s work over recent years has enabled him to develop start-up solutions which have created resources for communities to generate self-reliance and investment opportunities for children in villages in Cambodia, India and parts of China. The Liger Academy is one such venture that supports children from vulnerable villages to undertake projects in the areas of design, engineering and entrepreneurship. The success rate of programs developed at Liger is extraordinary: with a gender ratio of 50:50, 100% of the students are on scholarships, 100% of students participate in real or simulated start-ups, 95% of females compete in global coding competitions and 100% of students are actively engaged in projects to improve life in Cambodia. In essence, it is giving those who are subjected to cyclical poverty and powerlessness control over their own lives and opportunity for improvement through changed employment and life circumstance. And by implication, this leads to greater prosperity and improved lives for those who are affected by the students and the graduates of Liger over the years ahead.

For those who are new to the College, they may not have met Anya – the therapy dog who lives with Matron Neal at the Health Centre. Anya is our most recent recruit to the service program, her life and her work being of inestimable importance in the College. Among other things, Anya is a companion for those with anxiety or who are in distress in the Health Centre, a support for those who have experienced loss or are grieving, a regular presence in the learning program for boys with special needs, and even finds herself in the criminal courts calming victims who are required to give evidence. Anya is part of the spirit of this College as she moves around the grounds on a daily basis in the service of others, whenever and wherever that may be.

When St Ignatius founded the first school in Messina in southern Italy nearly 500 years ago, he had a compelling vision. He wanted to develop the very best in scholarship, while at the same time holding true to a gospel message of central significance – that of service and social justice. That impulse is as strong today at Riverview as it was in Ignatius’ day. It is our hope and ambition that the men who graduate from this College will emerge with a strong commitment to the service of others – men for others, and in so doing, become agents of change in their community and their world. May that continue to sit at the forefront as we progressively reinstate the service program over the weeks and months ahead.

Dr Paul Hine