Students show refugee support

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Photo: Some of the Year 7 class from St Joseph's School with their refugee support letters and Living Our Lives With Love title pages.

By Mick Jensen

A class at St Joseph’s School has written words of support, love and encouragement to future refugees settling in Ashburton.

Some 31 Year 7 students have penned heart-felt letter-to-editor-style essays on why they believe refugees should be welcomed, helped to assimilate and made to feel part of Mid Canterbury life.

The letter project follows on from studies focused on the plight of refugees in South Sudan and wider school themed project of Living Our Lives With Love.

Teacher Steph McCallum said looking at the plight of people fleeing Sudan had come about through a suggestion from Catholic relief, development and social service organisation Caritas.

Two terms of work had helped the children understand what was happening in the wider world and had also helped them develop feelings of compassion, sympathy and empathy.

The students had been asked to put themselves in the shoes of children in the African country and to explore their situation and life.

A chapter book focusing on the stories of three refugees from different periods of history had also been read and discussed, Mrs McCallum said.

She said reading in the local news in May that Ashburton district had been confirmed as a refugee settlement centre and could expect three to five refugee families from June next year had brought the situation and reality of the plight of refugees closer to home.

Last term, and using acquired and practised persuasive writing skills, the Year 7 students set about penning letters explaining why they were in support of refugees settling in Mid Canterbury.

Using strong personalised narrative, students penned lines saying the welcome banner should definitely be extended to those fleeing homelands so far away.

Letters said support for refugees needed to cover a whole range of bases including accommodation, jobs, education, language support and general friendship.

Student Phoebe McKenzie, who wrote a letter entitled Welcome Brothers and Sisters, said she wanted to show empathy with the refugees and said they deserved to come here and be supported by a caring community, and to live in a country where they were safe.

Fellow classmate Penny Marriott said in her letter, titled A New Life and New Home, that refugees were starting afresh and needed to be treated “with respect and as equals”.

They were fleeing from countries that had famine, war and draught and some had likely lost family and friends along the way.

Refugees were looking for a second chance and needed support from this community and others in New Zealand to realise their full potential, she said.

The letters have been posted on the Ashburton Public Library Facebook page and also shared by Welcoming Communities – Ashburton District and Mid Canterbury Newcomers Network.