Edmund Rice England - Presence . Compassion . Liberation

The Developing World Immersion Programme is an initiative of the Christian Brothers that encourages schools in the Edmund Rice Network in Europe to connect with Christian Brother communities and projects in the Developing World.

A Student Immersion experience is not designed to be a ‘poverty relief mission’. Of course, it is true that potential destinations will have great economic and social need, but to expect a small group of inexperienced 6th Formers to change the world in 2 weeks is clearly unrealistic.

The true purpose of Immersion is “not to change Africa, but to let Africa change you”

Students and their schools will be encouraged to examine their places within the global community, and to look within themselves in an attempt to make sense of their emotional and spiritual selves. Practically, an Immersion experience is intended to fully expose candidates to the social and cultural realities of another continent. The emphasis is on experiencing diverse aspects of the community in which they are ‘immersed’, including work, domestic life, education, social outreach, poverty, recreation and religion. However, in order to balance this breadth of experience, groups will be asked to focus upon specific projects for at least 4 days of their trip.

“Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God” Micah: 6.8

Aims

Personal Development

Through the Immersion Programme, participants will grow and develop personally through opportunities to:

Faith Development

Through the Immersion Programme participants will

Development Education

Schools will address development education within the wider school community. Through the Immersion Programme, participants will:

Host Communities

Through the Immersion Programme, participants will:

By ‘being with’ local communities in the developing world and reflecting on that experience in light of the Gospel message and the life of Edmund Rice, students will have opportunities to deepen their understanding of the Christian faith, to grow in their own sense of God and to increase their commitment and capacity to work for real change in our world today.

Participants

The Immersion Programme visit should be made available to 6 – 12 students aged 17 – 18 years. Immersion groups should be diverse and balanced in content, and need not be limited to experienced travellers. The only shared mentalities need be a willingness to develop one’s own spirituality and an openness to growth through experience.

Immersion Programme participants will be expected to influence change within their peer group.

They will be encouraged during immersion time to accept the challenges posed by various situations and people.

They will be asked to embrace the following:

The above points need to be borne in mind when selecting participants.

A minimum of 3 adults should accompany the group, of which two should have taken part in the induction programme and / or had previous experience of the Immersion Programme.

To allow for the sustainability of the Immersion Programme within a school, a roll-on of teachers from visit-to-visit is recommended. Ideally, at least one new teacher should be involved in each new visit.

Immersion Report by Caroline Cirino

“Four years ago, a group of staff from St Joseph’s College went, for the first time, to Sierra Leone to see if it were possible to lead student immersion experiences there. Five groups of students and staff have now taken part in these most profound, life affirming, humbling, blessed experiences returning to England, changed for ever. Working in Model School, spending time in the displacement camps and the slums of Freetown and playing with the children at the Sewa river is such a privilege, a blessing and a challenge.

No words can do justice to what happens to someone who lives and works alongside the wonderful people in Sierra Leone. The noise, colour, energy, chaos, vibrancy, excitement and the smell stays with you forever. Going to Sierra Leone feels like coming home.

This newsletter is a small summary of the last four years with quotes from staff and students and photos from this year’s group. It has been put together to give you a glimpse of the experience and to thank you for your continued support for this project.

I don’t think I can write down on paper the impact of such a journey. The experience simply can’t be described in words. It was a beautiful and eye-opening experience, unforgettable. As a person you become more fulfilled and richer but also more troubled, you are seeing first-hand the troubles in the world and I am not sure that you could ever walk away the same person that you were at the start.

My experience of Sierra Leone was one of great contrasts. Drinking the sweetest milk from a coconut prepared at the side of the road, hunger and impossible living conditions, unspoilt beeches, young adults with missing limbs, beauty, desperation, hope. Before my visit, I tried to imagine what I would encounter; the reality proved to be very different.

What first strikes you (or what first struck me anyway,) about Sierra Leone is its amazing natural beauty. What comes to your attention next is the vibrancy & energy of its people.

Another positive, yet simultaneously poignant experience I will never forget is when we visited the local village of Gondoma, near the Sewa River. We had to
walk through the village to get to the river, and as we walked, we were joined by more and more children who were so excited to see us, it was slightly surreal. While we were cautiously dodging mud, puddles and stones on the walk with apprehensive faces, they happily ran alongside us with bare feet and the biggest smiles imaginable. In a small, yet significant way, this served to prove the existence of the amazingly strong spirit these people possess. Sierra Leone is a country of absolute paradox. Never before have I experienced the level of contrast that there is in this land.

Sierra Leone is truly an amazing place and my thoughts always drift back there. I wish all the inhabitants the best for the future, I will never be able to give them as much as they have given me and will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to visit, see and immerse myself in the culture and life of the Sierra Leone people and the way I was treated and accepted by them.

The whole experience of Sierra Leone has made me want to do more – to go back to Africa and relive the whole experience again. Even though the people of Sierra Leone don’t have as much as us materialistically they are far richer in faith and family than we could ever dream of being. When planning our trip to Sierra Leone, I genuinely believed that our trip would provide me with an almost selfish satisfaction that I had taught these children games they didn’t know, and provided them with equipment that had never been seen, but in actual fact, I feel that I have learnt more about myself from the immersion experience than I could ever have imagined.

Africa will never be the experience that you will ever expect. No film, no book, nobody can ever fully express what their Africa is!

For me, it is a combination of things….beauty, new life, corruption, devastation. However, if there is one thing that will always stay with me from my experience, is that of hope. The people are filled with it.

Walking amongst the vibrant mixture of Gondoma community and our small yet powerful sample of St. Joes I am, for a 3rd time in 3 years, struck by what makes one of our simple, first experiences with the children of Sierra Leone so profound.
One step and it’s off the minibus to open-stretched palms, all-consuming smiles and energetic shows and demands for attention.

Two steps and it’s connecting palms, joined laughter, partnered games and reciprocal warm smiles and gazing into the eyes of others, uncluttered by thoughts of home, work and our own needs or worries.

Arriving in Freetown on the 12th of February was an overwhelming experience, I couldn’t believe I was finally there, after all the planning and fundraising, we were there among these people who were as interested in us as we were in them.

The thing I most loved about Sierra Leone, and what I miss now, is the people. Never have I had the fortune of building relationships with such kind, open, and loving people where everyone was so welcoming and glad to see us. It was a real privilege and great fun to be able to take a number of lessons with the students, and use the visual aids that we take for granted, but that the children loved and were amazed by.

The contrast in Sierra Leone was central to every day I spent there. It is one of the most beautiful places I have been to and a large majority of the land is full of greenery and yet it is also one of the poorest countries in the world. The people appear to be the happiest people I have ever met and yet they are the less fortunate people, financially, I have come across.

I found myself stood in the middle of a displacement camp, in the burning heat surrounded by children with ripped clothes and shoeless feet. What I was about to experience with these people was the sense of complete hopelessness!

Many times I have been asked to speak about my experiences. I have used one world to try and explain but even this doesn’t put across my true experience. Inspirational. To meet people struck by poverty and experiencing such hardship every day in societies repressed by people in power, but still smiling and holding their hands out for you to shake and willing to talk and give an insight to their story is something that I find truly inspirational. Inspiration – The people of Sierra Leone.

Photographs do the place no justice. They cannot capture the heat, and few can capture the colour, but what is lost most is the energy of it – heavy and suffocating though it is, the very air seems to vibrate, almost in anticipation. This is how I remember Sierra Leone, with my senses. Sometimes the memory of the things that moved me to tears is overwhelming – Susan’s Bay slum in all its miserable, sprawling glory, clinging to the shoreline like a disease that will continue to spread; Gondomar refugee camp and its child victims, stomachs and sometimes heads bloated in disproportion to their brittle limbs.I do not doubt that Sierra Leone has helped to shape me. It exposed me to things I could never have prepared for, but the people that I travelled with created a net that caught me when I fell. What we experienced left us raw and vulnerable, but also receptive to experience afresh, and I returned to England humbled and educated beyond the person I was when I left it. My life has not changed, yet my perspective has been altered in a way that is not dramatic but quietly influential. Sierra Leone, its smell and its feel and its faces, will stay with me forever, not changing my life but perhaps having shifted it onto another course. Hopefully, with the strength I learned from the people we met, I can become the kind of person I want to be.

Sierra Leone is the country that has had the most life changing impact on my personality and my ideology. I have changed in the way I perceive people, the way I interact with people and the need to do more then I could ever possibly do for people. This is an emotional, physical, and mentally challenging trip.

It is impossible to forget the people who have touched me whilst I have been on this journey. They will stay with me, as if they have put their handprint upon my heart and I will remember them.

I was amazed by the sixth formers. The way they immersed themselves in everything we did and were never scared to talk and interact with all the people that we met. To see this in such young adults made me feel blessed that I was able to have this experience with them. I was amazed by the people that I met and the things that I saw. Seeing the areas that they lived in and the experiences that they had been through, even in their young lives, often left me in a state of shock. But the thing that amazed me the most was the effect that the experience has had on me, and is the one of the things that will stay with me forever. It has really altered my perspective on everything.

The journey that has allowed me to live as never before began on September 8th 2009, when I was asked if I wanted to join a group to go to Sierra Leone for two weeks…well yes was my initial response. This was my leap of faith, and I only realise now that my ‘Yes’ would be one of the biggest ones in my life. One of the most heart stopping, life altering, soul shifting Yes’s that I would ever say.

My leap of faith took me on a journey of discovery, learning and of great love. I shared experiences in Sierra Leone, that I cannot and fear will never fully be able to put down into words. I wish so much that I could share with the world, how I felt about this experience. To share with them the smell of Africa, the warmth of its people, the hope of its children and the utter despair in its darkest corners.”

Prayer

Prayer of Thanks for Blessed Edmund Rice

O God, we thank you for the life of Edmund Rice.
He opened his heart to Christ present in those oppressed by poverty and injustice.
May we follow his example of faith and generosity.
Grant us the courage and compassion of Edmund as we seek to live lives of love and service.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.