By ALPHONSE BARIASI
SIX Grade 10 boys from St Joseph’s College, Nudgee in northern Brisbane visited Wewak and Aitape this week and returned home with many a story to tell.
There may even be life lessons that will shape how they perceive the world outside of their own.
Their eager minds would have absorbed a wealth of knowledge and understanding of a different culture and the unique challenges the locals they met live with daily.
More specifically, they had first hand encounters with children living with disabilities and those who care for their physical, emotional and intellectual needs.
According to the head of one of the schools visited, the boys had no trouble mixing with and playing with children living with disabilities.
That, after all, is the intent of what’s known at Nudgee as the annual immersion provided to year 10 students of the Catholic school established by the Christian Brothers in 1891.
The Nudgee team comprised of teachers Ken Mitchell and Anthony Connellan, and their charges Sam O’Bryan, Isaac Babao, Cooper Green, Christian Setefano, Jacob Martin and local Sepik lad Vuli Anganjuan.
Their mission was to get a feel of the local culture and visit the special education centres in Wewak and Aitape run by Callan Services.
Principal of the Inclusive Education Resource Centre in Wewak Veronica Kave said she was amazed with how easily the boys had immersed into the local environment and helped the students at her school.
“They are real ambassadors, they are champions. They didn’t tire of spending time and playing with the kids,” Kave said of the teenagers who, according to their teachers, have had similar experiences with less fortunate children and those living with physical impairments in their home city.
Kave and her counterpart Elisabeth Kilik from the Aitape Inclusive Education Resource Centre accompanied the Nudgee team to Port Moresby where we caught up with them on Tuesday evening.
Each year, Nudge sends out year 10 students for cultural and environmental immersion as part of their education and training for the future.
While the six boys visited PNG, another Nudgee group was on an immersion trip to Cambodia.
The rest of the year 10 boys have been inserted into local communities to experience working with foster kids and one team went for a learning excursion to the Moreton Island national park off the coast of Brisbane.
According to Mitchell, Nudgee’s connection with PNG goes back over 40 years when boys from here have attended the Brisbane boarding school.
The Leahy brothers of Mt Hagen, for example, are Nudgee old boys, he says.
The school is run by the society of Christian Brothers founded by Irish missionary Edmund Rice. Christian Brothers also run the Callan Services.
The PNG Callan network consists of 19 inclusive education resource centres in 17 provinces that are established through the National Department of Education.
The trip to PNG by the team from Nudgee, according to Mitchell and Connellan, has firmed up ties between these Christian Brothers-run institutions in both countries.
Mitchell says they all share the same values of promoting inclusive communities.
“It does not matter whether you’re black or white, able and disable.”
Mitchell and Connellan were impressed with the work done by Kave and Kilik and their respective staff at the Wewak and Aitape education centres.
“They’re absolute heroes. We’ve been amazed with their work. We’ve built relationships with their schools,” Mitchell adds.
The Nudgee team arrived in Port Moresby last Sunday and flew to Wewak the next day and were met there by the Christian Brothers.
Tuesday morning saw them meeting with staff and students with the special education centre at the Divine Word University campus in Kaindi.
The next day they drove to Aitape. They also travelled to the islands of Tumleo, Ali and Seleo.
According to the teachers the boys had a fantastic time with the locals who likewise greeted them with open arms and broad smiles.
The six students left with experiences that will be with them well into the future. One of them said he was used to meeting children with disabilities through her mother’s work at a special school.
While in Port Moresby, the boys visited the start/end of the Kokoda Trail at Owers Corner, Bomana War Cemetery and the Port Moresby Nature Park.
On their return the students will produce a video of their PNG experience to show their peers what they did while here. The video will hopefully interest future year 10 students to visit PNG to meet new friends and simply immerse into the local culture.
By ALPHONSE BARIASI