St Mary's Biennial Cultural Immersion
Students and staff from St Mary’s College Ipswich departed on 30 November for the biennial Cambodia Immersion, an opportunity for mutual cultural exchange, learning and personal growth.
The Immersion has taken place every two years since 2013, and the College was proud this year to be sending the largest contingent to date. Sixteen students were accompanied by four staff members, including Principal Judith Finan, and Sister of Mercy Sr Mary Lawson. The immersion is held in partnership with Cambodian organisations such as Metta Karuna, run by Sr Denise Coghlan.
Cambodia has a rich and fascinating history, yet many of us, when we think of Cambodia, think of the horrific and tragic era of the Khmer Rouge regime. During the four-year long regime, it is estimated that between 1.5 and 3 million people died. All the people living in the towns and cities were forced to move to the countryside to work in the fields. If you were an intellectual, wore glasses or spoke another language you were seen as a threat to the regime and were executed. Following this horrendous period in their country’s history, the Khmer people have remained optimistic and have worked to rebuild their nation.
The immersion team witnessed this work for justice, reconciliation and peace through the various non-government organisations it partnered with. Organisations that are run by both lay and religious people working at the grass-roots level not to change the Khmer people’s way of life but rather empower the Khmer people to reach their full potential through education, loving kindness and compassion.
St Mary’s College Pastoral Leader Margareta Lemon, the Immersion Group Leader, said the mission trip provided an invaluable learning opportunity. “The Khmer people, despite the horrific history their country has endured, are people who demonstrate such resilience and joy and we have so much to learn from them,” Ms Lemon said.
“It is our hope that through this immersion program all participants will be transformed by the experiences and return to our community filled with insight into poverty, different ways of living in the world and a deeper awareness of our interconnection and interdependence as one global family.”
During their visit, St Mary’s College staff and students helped with the English language program taught in five schools, assisting the poorest children, and participated in an outreach project undertaking tasks such as thatching walls for houses and constructing three-wheeled wheel chairs. Additionally, the team will visited cultural sites including Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world.
Ms Lemon said that after 13 days of immersing themselves in the Cambodian culture, the team left with full hearts and fond memories of the people they had journeyed with. “In this short time, we learnt so much, not just about the Khmer people, their way of life and the history of their country, but also what it means to be women of mercy. We were each challenged by this experience to be a voice for the voiceless and respond to the needs of those around us.”
St Mary’s College is proud of the sixteen students who stepped out of their comfort zone daily with compassionate hearts to meet new challenges as they engaged with the local children and youth. They had prepared for this immersion over twelve months and confidently communicated with their smiles and enthusiasm. They truly embraced what it means to be a person of mercy. It was a privilege for the group to be accompanied by Sr Mary Lawson on this journey. Her presence enriched the experience immensely.
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