As we move towards the latter stages of the term, there is a sense of appreciation about how far life and the world have moved since those tense days of uncertainty and lock down in early January. The incidence of COVID has all but vanished in Australia, apart from the occasional report associated with quarantine which is normally contact traced out of the system within days. It was this same week last year that face-to-face teaching ceased, the school moved onto the virtual timetable and the grounds remained silent for the following two months. Tension, apprehension and a world that closed itself off from each other for the first time in living memory was a new reality that took much getting used to. Social distancing, rigorous hygiene, PPE and daily reports of infection were the order of the day and they remained that way on and off for a year. What a different reality we are immersed in with weekends of free movement, family gatherings, sport – despite the rain – and all of the corollaries of life being back in abundance. Australia is indeed in a fortunate position.
In contrast, the situation in many countries remains precarious. While vaccines are being rolled out in vast numbers in the UK, the US and many developed countries, there is still widespread infection and much hardship in others. In India, infection rates remain at 40,000 per day. In Pakistan, the cost of a COVID test for those who can afford it is 6,000 rupees. However, the income levels for those who are listed as ‘poor’ in Pakistan, is 6,000 rupees a month. There is no choice for those whose livelihood is dependent upon meagre salaries. This is a very different perspective – a very different daily reality. Across the countries of eastern and western Asia and the Middle East, where agrarian economies prevail and subsistence is high, there is much pain being felt. It is instructive to step back and view this for what it is, and for what it is not, in Australia.
The situation in Yemen is one that we should pause to consider, especially during this time of Lent. I encourage you to take the few minutes to watch this video – it is truly compelling:
The impact of civil war for six years in Yemen has seen many schools close, and for a number that remain open, their operation is tenuous with students and teachers vulnerable and unsafe. Student assemblies are held among the rubble of the damaged buildings, with many of the facilities rendered useless through the shelling. Gun shots echo in the distance, persuading many not to make the perilous journey to school. In some instances, teachers haven’t been paid for years and it is up to the capable students to conduct the classes to continue learning as best they can. It takes an effort of the imagination, as we prepare for an Easter break and a holiday period over the week ahead, to understand let alone truly appreciate the difficulties that exist in countries such as Yemen, and in so many others throughout the world.
Our current concerns in Australia are whether the deluge of rain will render the ovals and facilities unusable as we confront a winter season of sport. While those concerns in the local context are real, in the larger lens they are so very minor. That accepted, we do need to be mindful of boarding and rural families where the floods have wreaked havoc over the last week, so perspectives vary according to place and circumstance. There will be sport and there will be quality programs to move into, but the relativities when measured against other regions of the world are both confronting and humbling. Safety and opportunity are the real issues at stake, and those who are fortunate to walk through the gate at Riverview have these in abundance.
During the week, the first of the House masses was conducted in the Ramsay Hall. It is 12 months since there has been a House mass on the College grounds; it was a moment to savour and one that was deeply appreciated by all who attended. Our calendar is full as we move ahead, with the Parents’ Welcome Function on the horizon next week and then a veritable cascade of events as Term 2 unfolds. While these events speak to a country and an educational institution of limitless possibilities, it is not widely shared. In the current context, as the world moves out of hibernation, there is exponential inequity, and in the prayerful spirit of Lent there is cause to go inward and reflect deeply upon it.
Perspective is about relativity and reality – where we are at, where others are at, and where both can be reconciled for the greater good. There is a dignity in that, a dignity that relates to the human essence of care, compassion, concern and conscience. Are these not the hallmarks of a Jesuit education? May we be spurred on by an impulse for perspective, by a spirituality and a context that demands it.