“Schoolies Week”, held each year after Year 12 students have finished their final exams, is rarely seen in a positive light by those looking on. But some “schoolies”, including 12 students from Good Samaritan Schools in NSW, have chosen an alternate way to celebrate their end of school life.
From November 23 until December 9, Good Samaritan Sister Meg Kahler and her colleague Monica Dutton, both members of the Good Samaritan Mission Team, accompanied 12 students from a number of Good Samaritan Colleges to Mtwara in Tanzania, to work with some local Benedictine communities and schools as an alternative to “schoolies week”.
This is the first time the team has run an alternative “schoolies” experience and according to Meg and Monica, it’s something they’d like to offer again.
“Over the last few years, the publicity around ‘schoolies week’ has become increasingly focussed on the negatives and students have found it difficult to find a positive way to spend their time after completing school,” explained Meg.
“Many expressed to us that they wanted to do something good – for themselves and for others.”
For Ashleigh Gorak, from St Mary’s College Wollongong, going to Tanzania was an alternative to the Gold Coast because it had so much more to offer. Kalina Kroska, also from St Mary’s, said she chose to go to Tanzania over the Gold Coast “to broaden my mind and widen my experiences”.
So how did the experience come about? “This pilot experience has been in the planning for a while now,” said Meg. “Because of our connections with the International Benedictine Education Network (BENet), we had been in contact with many schools throughout the world. At a meeting in Germany last November we met with the principals of two schools in Tanzania. We asked about the possibility of a visit and both welcomed us to their school communities,” she explained.
After a long journey by air to Dar Es Salaam, the group set off on a ten-hour bus trip to southern Tanzania to a town called Mtwara, about five kilometres from the border with Mozambique. There they visited two schools: Aquinas Secondary School, run by the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, and the Mtwara Sisters Secondary School, run by the Mtwara Sisters, an African Benedictine congregation founded in 1957.
“We stayed in one of the dormitories at the Mtwara Sisters Secondary School and spent the weekend seeing the surrounding area, including a visit to Msimbati – which is surely one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! While at the beach we gave swimming lessons to the students and played beach games,” said Meg.
Tara Hennessy, another of the students from St Mary’s Wollongong, reflecting on the experience, said, “At a crucial point in my life, the decision to go on the adventure of a lifetime and meet the most beautiful people in the most stunning environment has been such a blessing. I have learnt so much and appreciate the important things of life because of my experiences in Tanzania. Memories and friendships to last a lifetime!”
Through art and craft activities, board games, music and sport, the girls interacted with the students and helped with their language development. Meg said the Australian girls also learnt some Swahili, helped out in the library fixing books and other tasks, given some computer lessons, and assisted with cooking and cleaning.
According to Meg, Mtwara is in a predominantly Moslem region and not on the tourist route, so white faces are rare. It’s not an easy place to live. Access to water and electricity is often difficult and the weather at this time of year is wet, hot and humid.
“This is not a wealthy place; many of the homes are made of mud and most streets are dirt,” said Meg.
“[But] these physicial things have not been our focus. The girls commented on the people and their beauty, and the beautiful place that is their home. It has been an eye-opening encounter with people who live very different lives to most of us, and wonderful to see how well the two groups of students have become a family.”
For Eleanor Maclulich from St Scholastica’s College, Glebe, the alternative “schoolies” trip has been a “very rewarding, although sometimes challenging, experience”.
“We have been lucky to be surrounded by such welcoming and loving people throughout our journey. It is an experience I would not trade for anything,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sharon Oxley, from Mount St Benedict College, Pennant Hills, said, “I wanted to experience a culture different to Australia and gain an understanding of the wider world. At times this trip has been challenging and I am not sure how to interpret a lot of experiences, but it has all been wonderful!
“The people are eager to welcome you and I have gained an appreciation for the basics of life. The girls are always smiling and it has been such great fun!”
So, how have the students in Mtwara reacted to their Australian guests? “The coming of our visitors from Australia has been very important in our lives,” said Flaviana, one of the students at the Mtwara Sisters Secondary School.
“They have enriched us. We have had so much fun living together as one family. We hope they will come again!” she said.
Reflecting on the benefits of the inuagural Good Samaritan “schoolies” experience in Tanzania, Meg Kahler and Monica Dutton said it will be over time that the real benefits start to show.
“Any encounter wth people and places different to our own always breaks down barriers. We are still different, but we can find similarities and enjoy the differences; not be frightened of them or judgemental.
“Such an experience shapes young people in a most unique way, encouraging them to be open rather than closed,” they said.