According to Patrician Brother, Nicholas Harsas FSP, Our Lady of the Rosary primary school in Fairfield, is “the best school in Australia”.
As Principal of ten years, Br Nicholas tells this to all of his 670 students, including a group of refugee students recently arrived from Syria and Iraq.
Our Lady of the Rosary school, which was founded by the Sisters of St Joseph in 1928, has accepted 28 children from Syria and Iraq since mid-2016, ranging in age from Kindergarten to Year 6, ten of whom commenced on the first day of the 2017 school year.
These children and their families are here as a result of the Australian government’s pledge to take in 12,000 refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria and Iraq.
Many of the children have suffered various forms of trauma due to the violence and instability caused by the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and the civil war in Syria. Some have endured the death of their parents and grandparents, as well as losing their homes and property.
Br Nicholas says that the school is doing everything it can to help the new students start their lives afresh.
“We want to give them the best start here, aware of what’s happened in the past but leaving that behind and supporting the children now with where they’re at and looking forward,” he said.
Many of the children suffered a major setback to their education as they have been on the move since fleeing their homelands. Before making it to Australia some families spent time in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
“Some of the trauma is that the children have never been to school before. So they’re coming not knowing how to sit and listen,” Br Nicholas said. “They haven’t been able to establish any home, or any friends, or any school.”
Strategies have been put in place to support the children including a religious sister, who is a trained social worker, to assists the students in dealing with trauma, and an Arabic liaison person to help their parents with communication.
The teachers are also receiving support in the classroom and specialist teachers are providing the children with one-on-one attention.
Br Nicholas said, “We’re supporting the children and their families in regards to emotional stability, financial aid and of course education, in a Catholic Christian context.”
According to Br Nicholas, the response from the school community has been “fantastic” in welcoming the new students and their families, and “the teachers and staff have been absolutely tremendous”.
“Our Lady of the Rosary school is a very proud Catholic school and so for those families who have escaped from Iraq and Syria and are looking for a safe, secure, harmonious Christian environment, Our Lady of the Rosary provides that,” Br Nicholas said.
“The children are very happy to have new friends and we always say here at Our Lady of the Rosary school that it’s the best school in Australia. We have to show them the face of Christ. We have to be warm and welcoming.”