Cultural immersion programs in South Africa have been a regular part of life for students at Brisbane’s Lourdes Hill College since 2007. But for the first time in September, a group of students spent a week immersed in the life of a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory.
The nine students, accompanied by two teachers, travelled to Santa Teresa (Ltyentye Apurte), a Catholic community of 600-plus people about 80 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs. There they were hosted by Good Samaritan Sister, Liz Wiemers, herself a former staff member of Lourdes Hill College, who, for the past few years, has been living and working at Santa Teresa.
According to Year 11 student, Elouise Baartz, the group was immersed in a culture unlike any they had experienced before.
“Culture is very strong in Santa Teresa,” said Elouise.
“The Indigenous culture is followed authentically, affecting communication between groups, marriage arrangements and peer groups. Each of the children in the transition (prep) class [at the local school] can immediately name which of the eight skins groups they belong to.
“Sister Liz explained that, unlike urban Indigenous communities, Santa Teresa is imbued with traditional Aboriginal culture.”
Elouise also observed that the local culture seems to merge seamlessly with Catholic spirituality.
“The beautiful images painted on the walls of the church depict a fusion of the story of humanity’s journey through biblical and ancient Indigenous wisdoms,” she said.
For the nine Lourdes Hill students, their experience at Santa Teresa was a time of learning and discovery about the culture and spirituality of the local Indigenous people, but also about themselves.
“I have been privileged to be immersed in a culture that I feel sure will impact on my life,” said Adriano Fernando.
Kiah Morgan described the week as an eye opener. She especially enjoyed her time working in the women’s spirituality centre. Her cooking prowess was put to the test at the Thursday night ‘cook out’ with a menu of damper and kangaroo tail.
“The kids in the school at Santa Teresa allowed me to see a side of myself I did not think I had,” said Rosie Maguire.
Liana Tait was taken by the sincerity of the women at the spirituality centre. “They opened their hearts to me and allowed me to appreciate their lives, even in just a few days,” she said.
Liz Wiemers SGS noted how the local community responded to the students. “As a group associated with the Good Sams, people at Santa Teresa really took them to heart, sharing much of their lives and culture with the girls in ways I don’t always see.
“The women openly said they were sorry to see the girls leave. That speaks a lot about the relationships that developed over such a short time,” she explained.
Liz was particularly impressed with the girls’ knowledge and understanding of Good Samaritan Benedictine values and their ability to talk about how these values are lived each day.
“At a personal level I enjoyed being able to share something of my ministry with [teachers], Simone [Baker] and Greg [Quinn], and the girls. We have many school groups come to Santa Teresa on immersion experiences. I think the visit from Lourdes Hill took on a particular flavour because we were on the common ground of our spirituality and values.
“The college is to be commended on the ways they impart the spirit of the Good Samaritan charism to their students and staff,” she said.