UN World Day of Social Justice
To mark World Day of Social Justice on 20 February we invited senior students from some of our Mercy colleges to reflect on their understandings of social justice and share those with our readers.
As a Mercy school, service to others is rooted deeply in our schools ethos. This, coupled with the knowledge that we have the potential to make a difference, motivates us in our actions. We see social justice as people taking responsibility for themselves and the society they live in. By doing just this, the girls at our school are creating an environment for people (both the girls themselves and the people they help) to reach their full potential. To us, social justice is all about the fulfilment of potential because if everyone is striving towards this, society would be a far greater place. In our minds, one of the greatest needs of the world is compassion. Thus in our school we have developed the slogan, ‘We can do it with compassion!’. Through being involved in various service activities our insight into the workings of the world has matured drastically. We have also come to realise that in order to gain the most fulfilment one needs to be selfless. It gives us hope when we see the impact we are able to make on both the girls at school and the people we help. It gives us hope that we are able to make a substantial difference in our society, and what gives us the most hope is that, in turn, there are so many people wanting to help us.
Rebecca, Leader of the Service Committee, St Teresa's High school, Johannesburg, South Africa
Recently I was fortunate enough to do Mission work through Caritas in Lima, Peru during my World Youth Day experience. I was involved in volunteering in a preschool. This experience really highlighted to me that I could make a difference, even if it were just through small acts such as aiding a teacher in a classroom or helping the kitchen staff. Seeing the happy faces of the children that I worked with and the gracious attitude that the staff had towards our help made me feel blessed and really inspired me to want to do more for others.
The truth is that the world has so many needs which are going unfulfilled. The greatest need I see in the world is the need for people to get out there and help those who need it. For people to do whatever they can to reach out to those who require it. One thing that has really inspired me at my school Catherine McAuley Westmead is that there are so many students who are willing to volunteer their services in the area of social justice when given the opportunity.
Around a year ago I saw a homeless man on the side of the road and watched as so many people just walked straight past him, then a lady with a small boy stopped in front of him and asked him how he was doing then proceeded to tell him to wait there whist she got him a coffee and something to eat. Its acts like this that give me faith in humanity and the good that it can do for those in need.
Olivia, Student Leader of Social Justice, Catherine McAuley Westmead, NSW, Australia
At Mother of Mercy High School (Cincinnati, OH) students envision a world where people can live fully and peacefully. They take the time to hear someone’s story and learn from others, so that together we can help each other. Recently, several students took part in an overnight retreat called B4B1- 4 Schools, 1 Vision, Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges, Be One. Students from four diverse schools and backgrounds came together to learn about the topic of homeless awareness. “This experience really opened my mind to the situations happening in my own city and inspired me to think of ways to help and support the people in my community,” said Kate Eichhold ’14.
Breaking down barriers and stereotypes awakens our sense of judgment about others who are different from us and allows us to open ourselves to the world in a new way. At Mercy, we encourage students to step out of their “bubble” and see the world with their own eyes. Service trips within Cincinnati and around the country have allowed students to understand that success in life is not about material wealth but the people you surround yourself with, the relationships you build, a focus on faith and dedication to hard work. “I went to South Texas to work with immigrant families and give them my service for a week, in return I got so much more” was a response shared by all students who took part in last summer’s ARISE Mission Trip. “The community of Las Milpas opened me up to a new family of people who are determined, and love and care for each other within the community,” said Lauren Grosheim. “Regardless of how little they have, they are a most welcoming community, grateful for every opportunity, small or big, teaching me to always remain humble and appreciative of all of life’s blessings.”
Seniors, Mother of Mercy High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
In their actions for justice, Carmel College students feel that they are called to act because of their calling as Christians. Year 13 student Salene believes that their belief in God's Word helps them in their desire to establish righteousness in the world today. They learn about a variety of problems that our world faces including addressing human trafficking and poverty. They know that they cannot do much as individuals but helping other organisations that work to restore social justice is one thing they can do. Year 13 student, Siobhan, likes Mother Teresa’s quote that says “We ourselves feel what we are doing is just one drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop” she thinks that It shows how although their individual actions might not make breaking news, they still matter and when everyone does their best to help others, the end result is rather significant.
After a very well attended lunchtime information session on the School’s Mercy Action Program, four hundred students signed on! With such numbers, the challenge for us is, 'How can we appropriately meet student interest and enthusiasm to be actively involved in working for social justice?' In many of our students, we see a huge generosity of spirit and a willingness to be involved in service and awareness raising activities and it is my belief that this has only been enhanced in recent years due to the students’ understanding of Catherine McAuley’s life and her work to improve through education and care for the sick, the lives of those living with great social disadvantage, particularly women. In addition, Catherine’s emphasis on kindness and a response of the heart is, I feel, what underpins student motivation to respond to situations of disadvantage and injustice.
Our 2014 School Captains, Phoebe Peralta and Carla Pecoraro, reflected on these qualities at the School Inaugural Mass in the following way:
'Catherine McAuley eloquently stated, "If the love of God really reigns in your heart, it will quickly show itself in the exterior". As young women of Mercy, we must recognise that loving tenderly is not limited to thinking loving thoughts – it’s about acting through love, and in turn taking the love we’re given and sharing it with others. Acting justly means doing something when a person’s rights are being disregarded, or when a person is being excluded or when dignity is being disrespected. The passion has to come from your heart and not from a place of egocentricity.'
The students seem to understand that with privilege comes the responsibility to give back and that issues of access to clean drinking water, shelter and food, education, health care and human rights must urgently be addressed. In all their endeavours to become more informed and to take what action they can for a better, fairer and more just world, there is an understanding that they receive far more than they give as they are gifted with humility, kindness, gratitude, compassion and joy. Ultimately, they are gifted with hope because they begin to see that the power of one in a like-minded community really does make a difference.
Angela O'Malley, Director of Mission and School Captains Phoebe Peralta and Carla Pecoraro, All Hallows School Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
What animates me in my action for justice is seeing the need for help in people. What I see is the needs for people. Most people in first world countries think about the wants but never the needs, because it is a given to have those needs, such as food, clothing, shelter. There are people in the world where these thing aren’t a given and I want to provide for them these needs in whatever way I can.
I understand social justice as taking an action to help those who are less fortunate than us or are experiencing injustice or disadvantage. Giving a voice to the voiceless, providing hopeful futures, returning the same amount of happiness and well-being we receive to those around us. It is one thing to just say you’re going to do something but it is another to actually take your word and turn it into action.
I see the needs of the world as necessities to live a happy and hopeful life.
The main need being truly happy living the life you are given. Things that would add to this happiness are food, water, shelter, friends, family, self-expression and self-efficiency. You can have all the money in the world, live in the greatest mansion with lots of expensive material items but not be truly happy. You can have the basic needs of life, live in a simple home that provides you shelter, be surrounded by your family and friends and be the happiest person alive. I see the needs of the world are to be happy and liberated.
I’ve seen the slums of the Philippines; their homes are literally two stories of garbage piled on top of each other, no lights, no furniture. They live in large families with many kids and the parents provide for them with a few cents they can manage from ‘work’. It’s a lifestyle I would never imagine living. It is a far perspective to what I’m used to and I must admit it does horrify me that people live like that. But what makes them so different from us? We are all humans, we all live on the same earth, we all see the same sky. It would be easy to ask ‘why can’t we all just be equal?’ but there are many reasons to that question that that’s not the case today. Being engaged in action for justice has transformed me as a human being who sees the big picture. My view on the world has become much more open and I aim to become a self-less person. I want to eliminate the thoughts of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and think about ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘the world’. Being engaged in action is not only an opportunity for me anymore, it is a necessity.
What gives me hope is when communities come together, with the same values and goal, and do their best to reach that goal. That’s what drives me and gives me strength. What gives me more strength however, are the happy faces of those we are helping. It really is a good feeling to know you have done all you can to bring a smile to their faces. And knowing it makes both you and them happy, you want to do it over and over again until everyone in the world is happy. It may sound like a childish dream or hope, but it is what I truly want in the world.
Our school has many programs that enable for students to take part in the actions of social justice through groups such as the amnesty group, the St Vinnies door knock appeal, project compassion etc. These all allow for students to become involved in the action for justice.
Social justice is what distinguishes right from wrong by looking for ways to create equality and fair opportunities for all humans, and being from a Catholic school, we are taught that all humans deserve to be treated with equality so they have a chance at living their life.
People living in fortunate areas of the world such as ourselves in Australia need to give help to those in third world countries not only financially, but by offering education, food, water and other necessities for survival.
Being involved in Mercy Action makes me feel good about myself because I know that I am helping make a difference. I'm not just talking about making a difference, I am involved in it and I also get to spread the word so that others become involved in it as well.
What gives me hope is seeing the success of Mercy Action at our school and finding out the results of our contributions.
The reward of self-satisfaction associated with assisting others and making a difference animates me in my action for justice.
Social justice involves helping the less fortunate. This can be done by giving to charity. However, whilst charity can clothe, feed and shelter one, it does not solve the issue that led to being hungry, naked or without refuge. Social justice goes beyond charity, taking steps to resolve the foundation of these issues to avoid them occurring.
The needs of the world are:
- To be free from poverty and homelessness
- For all to have access to shelter, medical assistance, food and water
Being engaged in action for justice has given me self-satisfaction that I am taking steps to help the world and encouraged me to continue such acts of justice beyond the local environment
The fact that such social justice can and is making a difference gives me hope
Judy, Shirley, Jessica, OLMC Parramatta, NSW, Australia