In April, a group of 10 Vincentians from all over Australia touched down in the community of Nganmarriyanga (Palumpa) to kick off this year’s National Immersion Program. We were deeply touched by the warm welcome we received from the community who shared their home, stories and spirituality with us over the two weeks.
During the first week, we headed to the local school to observe and support the teaching staff. Each class has a teacher’s assistant, a local community member who acts as a bridge between the language of instruction—English, and the local language—Murrinhpatha. I was amazed by the collaboration among the teaching staff, who displayed skill, dedication, patience and care. I spent most of the week with the year 4/5 class. I really enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the children and spend some time with them individually to assist and encourage them with their tasks. I will always remember the bright smile of one boy that I sat with when he received praise and a sticker from his teacher for his creative writing. This experience in the school gave me a greater appreciation of the importance of education and the opportunities that it provides as well as the different realities and challenges faced by school communities in remote areas.
The children were excited as the week came to an end, as it meant the holidays had finally arrived! The school grounds were converted for some games and activities run by the ‘Vinnies mob’ for the local kids (and the ‘big kids’) to enjoy. The days were packed with scavenger hunts, craft, sport, mini Olympics, cooking, team games and—who could forget?—the slip ‘n’ slide and great water balloon fight! The activities were met with enthusiasm from the kids, who gave free rein to their athletic, artistic, and sometimes competitive sides. Our mob trod home at the end of each day with exhausted bodies but hearts warmed and spirits lifted by the smiles of the children and the laughter we had shared.
We were lucky enough to join the local community in church over the Easter period. The deep spiritual connection the Indigenous culture shares with the environment was tangible, particularly in the Mass celebrations. Palm Sunday saw a beautiful array of lilies, gathered by the children, lining the red dirt road that we travelled along towards the church, as we re-enacted Jesus’ footsteps. On Good Friday the community travelled around the roads, re-enacting the Stations of the Cross, creating a powerful moving imagery. Saturday saw a vigil Mass around the bonfire where each person lit their candle from the fire, creating another powerful connection to nature and spirituality.
A highlight of our time came during Mass on our last day. The Vinnies mob had decided to give a blessing to the community, sharing a word with each member—‘peace’, ‘compassion’, ‘hope’ etc. This was a small way to pay our respects to them for the openness with which they had welcomed us. Following this, during communion one of the young boys who had spent the two weeks with us participating in the program walked up to each one of us scattered throughout the crowd and placed his hand on our heads and gave us a blessing in return. This was not prompted by anyone, and was an incredibly special and powerful moment—one we will all remember.
Spending two weeks in community was a unique experience and such a privilege. Throughout our time in Nganmarriyanga we encountered the joy of the children, gained a greater understanding of the Indigenous culture, and built friendships that will remain engraved on our hearts. We highly recommend the experience to all to broaden your horizons and create a greater understanding of remote Australia and the Indigenous culture.
Juliana Kittel and Sarah Dixon are members of the 2017 National Immersion group. For more details about the National Immersion Program visit www.vinnies.org.au/Immersion2018