Beginning in 2015, the St Vincent de Paul Society of Canberra/Goulburn has organised and coordinated numerous Mini Vinnies Social Justice Days for our Catholic primary school students. With the aim of creating Vincentians, the event provides students the opportunity to learn about disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our community, and how we can work together to help them. In November 2018, the very first Secondary Schools Social Justice Day was also held in the ACT.
The Social Justice Days have primarily been organised and run by the Society’s Youth and Young Adults team, inviting conference members, centre managers and other program coordinators along for local knowledge, with a few events partnering with Caritas Australia and Catholic Mission. The Social Justice Days have varied in size between 36 – 110 students, held at various locations from the south at Pambula Beach to the ACT and out west in Gundagai. We have had a total of 26 schools participating in the event since 2015.
A typical Social Justice Day begins with an opening liturgy and keynote address. We also like to include the Society’s story in the opening presentation, to inform the students that the St Vincent de Paul Society was formed by a group of students with a passionate desire to live out their Catholic faith by serving the most disadvantaged people in their community, and that they can do the same. At the same time, workshop facilitators also introduce themselves and their service to demonstrate that while we all work in slightly different areas of the community sector, there is an overlap in service provision and the needs of our companions.
As our founder Frederic Ozanam instructed, “You must study [the poor’s] condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of long-term improvement.” This is the objective of the small group workshops we run at these Social Justice Days, where a range of social justice topics are covered, including refugees and asylum seekers, homelessness and poverty – quite a variety some might say! Before the students head home, we run a closing session focused on the various activities and engagement opportunities they may be involved in the following months. This is an opportunity for them to apply the newfound knowledge in their local context with whatever resources they have available. We follow up with schools in the weeks after to check in and see how they are going with this challenge – many times there are plans in the calendar and planning is already happening.
The feedback from schools is generally very positive, with staff commenting on how valuable it is for students to make a connection between the fundraising and volunteering that they do in schools and the impact that their efforts have with our companions. We look forward to continuing this initiative in the years to come, hopefully branching our further into regional areas. We aim to reach out to more students at the primary and secondary school levels, with the goal of creating future leaders who will advocate for the disadvantaged and vulnerable members of their communities.