Student Ava Alexis-Seggumba works under the watchful eye of CCODP volunteer Martin Blanchet.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

Student Ava Alexis-Seggumba works under the watchful eye of CCODP volunteer Martin Blanchet.

March 7, 2016
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Holy Family School in southeast Edmonton has found a formula to get junior high students galvanized into active and dignified service to the poor.

Start with a leader who truly inspires them to do what they are taught by living out their Catholic social teachings.

"I'm inspired by Pope Francis because he donated his motorcycle to charity and would just ride the bus like any other normal person," said Grade 9 student Mary-Jane McIntyre.

"It's easy for a preacher to get up there and say 'Be humble' but it's a different thing to actually do that," McIntyre said.

Add some in-depth knowledge about justice issues with simulations, graphic videos and a talk by a refugee. Then pose the question: What is Jesus calling us to do and how have I answered the call?

Over two months, students at Holy Family partnered with Development and Peace to learn about those suffering in the Global South.

Under the leadership of assistant principal Suzanne Rozycki and teacher Laurie Bonanni-McGee, they looked into their hearts to choose a justice response that Jesus has called them to perform.

Rozycki said almost 270 people - students, staff and parents - are now supporting the students and learning about Development and Peace themselves. Students are examining their own skills and talents to determine how they can serve others. "That's ultimately, what Jesus is asking of all of us," she said.

Struck by the global food crisis, the students learned how the food distribution system has left countries with the largest populations with the least food and those with much smaller populations with so much food that some is wasted.

"It made me feel horrible because I live here and other people are starving," said Grade 9 student Caleb Prcevich.

"I felt the food crisis was really unfair," added Anita Pynadath, in Grade 8.

As the students narrowed down the justice response they were being called to do - prayer, advocacy or charitable action - focus included the theme that no one journeys alone, said Rozycki.

SHARE TALENTS, TREASURES

Students come to understand that project development improves when people work together and share their gifts, talents and treasures, she said.

The student initiatives are now in full swing. One group will give presentations to draw awareness to the devastating effects of an earthquake in Nepal.

"Even though it happened a long time ago, they still need help," said Grade 8 student Matthew Mamchur.

Others are selling pens with information about kids in the Global South who do not have opportunities for education.

"If they don't have educations, who is going to lead our world in the future?" asked Grade 8 student Jennica Rae Marquises.

Many students decided to help refugees after hearing Rozycki's father tell of his parents who were taken into forced labour camps from Poland near the end of the Second World War.

FLEEING SYRIA

They also learned through graphic videos of refugees fleeing Syria without enough resources to bring their children.

"It's just shocking that all the stuff they worked hard for they're leaving behind, and they're leaving their family behind," said Anu Coonghe, in Grade 9.

Grade 8 student John Neil Carlos Rodis said his group is organizing a sportathon to raise money and spread awareness about Syrian refugees.

Parent Monique Mamchur was moved to tears as she said the students' work helping the poor has gone hand-in-hand with a noticeable spiritual growth.

"You could teach all you want at church and try to be an example at home but to have it at the school level, now it's not just mom lecturing him, not just the church lecturing him," she said.

Sara Farid, regional coordinator for Development and Peace, said young people often want to act for social justice.

"It's inspirational. You feel like, 'Thank you Lord, this is the next generation.'"