Kia Ora Koutou! Happy New Year everyone and welcome to Term 1, 2020. It’s been a fantastic start to the term with an amazing powhiri for the many new staff members and students here at St Paul’s Collegiate School.
As we began the New Year, at the opening chapel service I asked the school a question: “Are you happy to be here?” The chapel was intensely warm, we were all back in our number ones for the first time and...when also presented with a “would you rather” question of being in the school or by the swimming pool...you can imagine what the overwhelming response was!
These questions were asked in relation to the value we place on a St Paul's education. Only 7% of New Zealanders have access to an educational environment such as ours and when looking at this statistic on a global perspective it drops to 0.0001%. In other words, we should all be happy to be here, we are blessed to be here, we are fortunate to be here and it is an enormous privilege to study and to work here. So despite the temperature, despite it being the first week back after a long refreshing holiday, we should all be happy to be here.
On the 3rd of December after prizegiving last year 29 members of this community, comprising four staff, one parent and 24 senior students once again made their way to Cambodia to work with the charity Flame in the slums of Phnom Penh. This is the fourth year that members of this community have made this trip and once again Cambodia and its people enthralled us, challenged us, entertained us and inspired us. We met so many children and young people who were incredibly happy, despite their extreme and desperate poverty.
Once again we had to engage with so many assaults upon our senses and so many questions related to how we live and how others are forced to live. How was it possible to meet so many joyful happy young people and children when they were living in terrible conditions; in shacks and makeshift shelters immediately adjacent to or literally on top of the stinking open sewers of their city?
The answer to that question was found in the Flame education centres. The joy of these children and young people that we encountered, interacted with and grew to know and to love, was centred in the value placed on the education that they were receiving. Education is to them, like it is to us, a passport. For us, it is a passport into a brighter, better and more fulfilled future. For the children and young people in the Flame centres, it was a passport out of the slums, away from poverty, slavery, oppression and the ever-constant threat and risk of trafficking. So high was the value placed on this education was that it generated the joy and happiness that we encountered in some of the most desperate living conditions on the planet.
All 24 students and four staff that we took to Cambodia this year each in their own individual way had a remarkable encounter. Our lives were changed. Our laughter echoed across the slums, the forests, the temples and the rivers. Our tears watered the dry ground at our feet as we once more pondered the story of genocide and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Our hearts were broken by the trusting affection of the children of Cambodia. Once again it was a truly humbling, life-changing and transformational adventure.
Mr Foot, Mr Carpenter and Mrs Allen were phenomenal travelling companions and leaders. Our students constantly made us proud; each and every one of them contributed so much of themselves, making themselves vulnerable, doing so much and learning something that lies at the heart of the Christian Gospel: Servant Leadership.
I encourage you all to seriously consider the opportunity afforded to your son and daughter by this experience in Cambodia. I would just like to mention that this year there are also two other similar life-changing and engaging overseas service opportunities on offer in the Solomon Islands and Guatemala. More details will follow in this respect.
I would like our students to have the final say and here follows some extracts from their final night reflections...
David: “everyday I smiled for a different reason, whether it being our group not once, but twice running sessions on our own, the whole room dancing Gang Gam style with us during our slum visits, the boy Ha’s tuk tuk, or poignantly, seeing in one go, every single smile that we created at the water park, recognizing every single face that u hope maybe, in a small way, u changed the life of..”
Julian: “To think that the smallest of deeds will significantly alter the lives of these kids is highly uplifting, and vice versa, as their smiles encourage me to give more than take in the long run”
Kayley: “Not only do I feel a great sense of gratitude from being here in Cambodia but I also feel extremely humbled to have met all of the students and staff of flame and to have had the pleasure of working in your amazing centres is something I will never take for granted. All staff, young adults and children of flame are so inspirational in their approach to life even when they have so little... they are some of the happiest and humbling people I’ve met”
Zainal: “This trip has been quite a handful. Physically and emotionally. It made me think, about our own lives, and the things we consider as “challenges”. A lot of students complain about going to school, yet, these kids would walk that extra mile just to learn something new everyday. Visiting the slums and seeing how the kids still smile and lighten up our day despite their living conditions is really inspiring…”
God bless us all as we travel together to the adventure that will be 2020.