It’s five years since Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane first offered students an immersion experience in the Aboriginal community of Santa Teresa in the Northern Territory, and in that time, student interest in the program has grown significantly.
Such was the number and quality of applications from students this year that organisers were forced to select participants by drawing names randomly from a hat.
John Clarke, Deputy Principal (Mission) of the College, said a “significant number” of students had applied this year and the quality of their applications was “exceptional”.
“Applicants had to demonstrate a previous commitment to service and spirituality and to outline why this particular experience appealed to them. They also had to explain what they hoped to get out of the immersion and how they would share the experiences on their return.”
According to John, all five of the College’s immersion experiences to Santa Teresa have had “a profound impact on participants”.
Charlene McMenamin, one of two Lourdes Hill College teachers who accompanied nine students to Santa Teresa last month (July 16-24), agrees. She’s also a strong advocate of other immersion experiences on offer at the College.
“The immersion experiences offered at Lourdes Hill College allow our students opportunities to see things from the perspectives of others. These young women in Year 11 are on the verge of becoming leaders at the College, and the immersions offer them a unique opportunity to meet a new challenge and step out of their comfort zones,” she explained.
“Santa Teresa is far removed from the experience of many of our students, and to encounter this with open hearts and allow the experience to change them for the better, gives the students an opportunity to truly live in service.”
After a two-day visit to Uluru, this year’s Lourdes Hill cohort travelled to Santa Teresa where they spent the next six days immersed in the culture and day-to-day life of the local people under the guidance of Good Samaritan Sister Liz Wiemers, herself a former staff member of Lourdes Hill College who has been living and working at Santa Teresa since 2009.
Established as a Catholic mission in 1953, Santa Teresa – known as Ltyentye Apurte to the local Eastern Arrernte people – is situated 85 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs and has a population of about 550 people. As a remote, desert community with limited infrastructure and services, life here can be tough at times.
But that didn’t deter Lourdes Hill College students Ashleigh Keefe and Jamie Atkinson, both aged 16. They said living at Santa Teresa for nearly a week, engaging with the people and helping out where they could, was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity and something they would recommend to their peers.
“This trip is definitely something that I will never forget, and I am so glad that I was able to experience it,” said Ashleigh. What stood out most for her was “how lovely and friendly the people are there, and how hard they work every day”.
Like Ashleigh, Jamie went to Santa Teresa in the hope of getting a better understanding of Aboriginal culture and to experience it first-hand – hopes that were realised by the end of the experience.
“I absolutely loved every moment of the trip. I loved seeing Uluru and the Kata Tjuta, but staying in the Santa Teresa community was one of the best experiences of my life,” Jamie said.
“The community was so quiet and small, very different to living in Brisbane. I had many highlights: we had the opportunity to experience a smoking ritual and have our spirits cleansed and strengthened by Mia, the [traditional] healer. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching the Aboriginal ladies paint beautiful silk scarves to sell at the spirituality centre.”
Sister Liz Wiemers said she’s “always delighted” when Lourdes Hill College students come to Santa Teresa.
“They’re always so well prepared before they come. They come with such a wonderful attitude and openness to a cross-cultural experience,” she explained.
“I’m just proud that a Good Samaritan College applies itself so well to [the experience], and they’ve developed a real connection with [the community] here over the years that they’ve been coming.”
Liz was particularly impressed with the way this year’s group responded to the constant power outages during their visit, especially at a time when weather conditions were quite cold.
“That didn’t faze the girls,” said Liz.
“For a lot of people they’d whinge and moan about the power outages, but they just adapted to it.
“They’re the things that we live with all the time here and it was great to see them just being able to take it in their stride and not be thrown by inconvenience. Not all young people can do that.”
Interested in finding out more about Santa Teresa? Check out Santa Teresa Spirituality Centre’s Facebook page.