Drought relief package for regional Catholic schools

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Image of a property in the Wilcannia-Forbes Region in Western NSW, an area severely affected by drought

Education minister Dan Tehan announced on Thursday 7 November a nationwide $10 million relief package from the Federal Government for rural and regional non-government schools. The package intends to aid families in non-government education that are severely financially and emotionally affected by the drought- a move that comes in the wake of the overall $500 million Federal drought stimulus.

For Catholic schools, which comprise the largest portion of non-government education in the country, the announcement is timely news.

Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green, Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes and a man of farming stock, spoke of first-hand experience in the struggles of his flock.

“The economic conditions across the diocese – which covers the Western half of NSW- are difficult and families are struggling,” he said.

“This announcement will be a huge shot in the arm for our schools and the communities they serve.”

The diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes covers half the state, as shown in this map courtesy of Centacare.

Anthony Gordon, director of Catholic Education in the Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes spoke to The Catholic Weekly on the news. “The drought assistance package is welcomed very warmly by the diocese of Wilcanna-Forbes,” he said. “We applaud the government on measures that assist families affected by the drought throughout the country.”

For Catholics in regional Australia, educating children in the faith at school is an important facet of upbringing.

New South Wales Catholic Schools educate more than 250,000 students -from all socio-economic brackets- and employ 30,000 staff in 595 locations.

Already, Anthony Gordon, spoke of internal financial support the Catholic Education Office, Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes was implementing.

“No family should leave our schools because of the inability to pay school fees.”

“‘We have advised our principals that our school fees should not be increased in 2020 and we are ensuring relief for any family that feels they cannot pay school fees,” he said. “This is on top of measures that we have already had in place which provided schools with some financial assistance to help families with school excursion costs and other costs such as school uniforms.”

Mr Gordon also spoke of the importance of emotional resources needed for families affected. “We are ensuring that we are supporting our children with good pastoral care,” he said. “One of the things you find is some kids are going home to very stressful circumstances and we have to be conscious of that and support and help them as much as possible to ensure they are in a psychological state where they can learn.”

Catholics in Wilcannia-Forbes have been praying earnestly for rain.

Bishop McKenna of Bathurst spoke earlier this year on the importance of supporting struggling Catholics stating that, “The provision of affordable Catholic schooling, especially for those in need in this time of drought, should not be an added burden to the financial strain of families.”

Already there is a diocesan fund organized by Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green to families in need. Access to the fund can be done through the Wilcannia-Forbes chancery office at [email protected]

Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green of the Wilcannia Forbes Diocese advocate for a greater awareness of struggling Australians in regional NSW, acknowledged the relief backage to be a boost for the communities in his diocese