Archived News Item

It All Began With Two

When Catherine McAuley was asked about the founding of the Order she replied: ‘It began with two, Mary Anne Doyle and I.’ No new foundation was started by one. And so it continues with Mercy Connect Melbourne.

Mercy Connect Melbourne is a project of Mercy Works which is a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia and Papua New Guinea.  It uses the extensive educational experiences of trained volunteers to provide additional in-school support and mentoring to refugee students as they settle into the Australian educational setting. Mercy Connect is a project which provides volunteer tutors for refugee students in both primary and secondary schools. The students are identified as having learning needs either in terms of understanding the culture or because of their needs in coping with the requirements and demands of education. The project began in Melbourne in 2011 with just two Mercy schools, St Aloysius’ College North Melbourne and the Academy of Mary Immaculate Fitzroy. With the support of the Catholic Education Office news quickly spread and before long the project had moved to both secondary and primary schools.

As we move towards the second half of 2014, Mercy Connect Melbourne is now in twenty seven schools, eight Catholic Secondary Schools, thirteen Catholic primary Schools and six Government schools. This year also saw the commencement of the Mercy Connect Volunteers working with a group of Adult Community Detention Asylum Seekers. Many in this group are professional people who are living in the community but have neither work nor study rights  whilst others have had very little or no previous experience of schooling. Some are here with family while others have left all family members behind in their country of origin hoping to one day bring them to a better life and to be reunited one day.

During 2013 there were ninety two volunteers working in eighteen schools, this has increased to one hundred and ten volunteers in the project. As the project continues to grow throughout the year we anticipate that the number of students will increase to approximately four hundred. The hours contributed by volunteers in 2013 were two thousand and ninety seven, considering that with the exception of a couple of volunteers all have a teaching background, most still holding VIT registration it is a huge contribution to the Education System in Melbourne. We are fortunate to have the skills of a couple of retired lawyers working with the senior legal studies students as well as a retired doctor who works with senior students in the area of biology. There are also a couple of nurse educators who are working in the senior schools.

Volunteers are asked to contribute a half day each week many go beyond the call of duty and spend most of the day in the school saying, ‘we have travelled this far, may as well stay all day’, others volunteer in two schools or make more than one visit to a school each week for special programs. Such generosity is seen in all the volunteers who are very committed and offer a great service to the staff and students in the schools.
Other good news stories include the fact that some of the volunteers commenced working with students in year seven and have progressed with the same students until the present time when they are in year ten. Some volunteers have gone from the primary school to the secondary school with the same students. Students express their thanks to the volunteers with a pat on the back or ask if they will return again the next term or semester. On one occasion when visiting a classroom with the volunteers at the beginning of the new school year, a student ran at the volunteer with his arms outstretched to say, ‘I knew you would come back’.

Volunteers are working from Reception to Year Twelve. Some assist one on one while others work in small groups. Some volunteers have participated in excursions with the students while one brave volunteer even attended the school camp.The schools are located across the Archdiocese of Melbourne and it must also be acknowledged the  long distances some of the volunteers travel to support these students each week.

There are many stories of success, frustration and even disappointment such as when a student is absent for several sessions. However, the success rates far outweigh this when we hear stories of students wanting to pursue a career in law or opting to do regular rather than a modified exam and passing with great success. We continue to recruit for new volunteers to join the team and each person who does contributes greatly to the life of the student and makes a difference in his or her life, though visible success is often slow to show its face.

What began with two in Catherine’s day, requires the continuous effort of all of us today. Mercy Connect Project is now a team effort comprising the coordinating team, school staff, volunteers and students. When these groups work together we build a future full of hope, especially for those most in need of compassion and Mercy.

Messages to: Mary Lewis RSM
Coordinator Mercy Connect Project Melbourne