Civic-minded students put their faith into action

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Members of the Sydney Catholic deaf community celebrate Ephpheta Sunday on 7 August. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Members of the Sydney Catholic deaf community celebrate Ephpheta Sunday on 7 August. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“What’s the matter with kids today?” comes from the song Kids in the musical Bye Bye Birdie – and it’s often posed by members of older generations as they observe young people growing up.

Students from three Catholic schools in Sydney’s inner west have joined with other groups to reverse these negative perceptions through their strong devotion to community service projects.

Identical twins Adelaide and Isabella Highfield from Santa Sabina College, Strathfield, have baked goods, prepared food and served people during almost six years at the Ephpheta Centre.

Ephpheta supports people who are deaf or significantly hearing impaired to improve their understanding of Catholic teachings through attendance at Mass and the Sacraments, along with providing social programs including what’s called the Deaf Café at their Punchbowl offices.

Communication is provided through the sign language known as Auslan and the Highfield twins have worked to master that difficult skill to assist their communication with those who enjoy the delightful treats which they both bake and serve.

Limited funding would make the operation of the café very difficult without the generosity of volunteers like the girls, who are continuing to volunteer despite their looming HSC examinations.

“Many of the people in this community were sent away to institutions as children because of their hearing-impaired problems and as a result have had little chance to connect with the wider society and form vital relationships and connections,” the twins have said.

Embracing more international problems, students from Bethlehem College at Ashfield have demonstrated leadership skills to inform those in the local and wider communities of the need to express opposition to the mandatory detention of children and asylum seekers.

Since 2014 members of the “Faith in Action” team have worked to spread a greater understanding of this issue, proudly demonstrating their loyalty to the social justice commitment of the Sisters of Charity who founded Bethlehem and to the school’s vision statement: “Be courageous in mind and deed and global citizens with a genuine concern for others.”

There was strong positive reaction to the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Public Information event which they organised earlier this year and the team has formed a close relationship with Settlement Services International (SSI), a community-based not for profit organisation providing services to newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers.

Their peers from Year 12 at Bethlehem have embraced the spirit of Catholic faith by donating time to various events organised by the SSI centre, located at Auburn.

Much younger students at St Joan of Arc primary school at Haberfield have directed their attention to addressing playground bullying and cracking down on the use of bad language through the efforts of a Student Safety Team.

Regular involvement with the principal helps to develop the skills used by its members, who devote part of their lunchtime break to this positive community initiative.

Some of the Year 6 students who serve this cause themselves experienced some playground bullying and safety issues in their earlier years and are able to identify with those who continue to experience difficulties.

A “Buddy Bench” is provided in the schoolyard to encourage visits from new pupils and those who feel alone to attract friendly assistance from the Safety Team.

Coverage of such positive stories is unlikely to generate headline news coverage, but I’ve learned of these initiatives through being invited to join a judging panel reviewing the positive efforts of students from both Catholic and state schools as part of the annual Community Citizenship Awards to be presented by Wests Ashfield Leagues Club on 23 August. Prize money will be awarded to schools for the most outstanding projects and also to charities which they support.

Previous stints judging for the Lions’ Youth of the Year Quest already convinced me that sentiments in that song from Bye Bye Birdie don’t apply to all younger people.

While it asked: “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?” community initiatives emanating from our schools now seem better developed than any attempts to seek that “perfection” during my younger days.

This reflects positively on all ages: the committed students, their dedicated teachers, many good and caring parents, and obviously the people who are assisted.