by ROWENA OREJANA
St Mary’s College students were bursting with energy and passion after they launched their “3 Hours for Syria” project.
The project, the brainchild of year 10 religious education (RE) teacher Clare McGivern, calls on students to work for three hours and donate their earnings to Caritas. Caritas Internationalis has been supporting 1.2 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring Lebanon.
Mrs McGivern explained the idea of supporting the refugees came to her when she saw the photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose dead body washed up on the shores of Turkey after his family decided to escape from Syria.
“I just thought we needed to do something, but I didn’t know what it was going to be,” she said. Mrs McGivern shares her year 10 RE class with Natalie McPherson, who suggested they do something on refugees for the journey stories they had been discussing in class.
Mrs McGivern said she researched and watched videos about the plight of the refugees and knew that the girls would feel depressed and powerless if they just watched the videos as she had.
“That’s not good enough. We’ve got to show that they can make a difference,” she said.
The two RE teachers mulled over their options. Mrs McGivern hit upon an idea when she went to watch a movie with a friend.
“I’m thinking, I should really be going to the movies with my husband but I don’t have a babysitter. And then, I thought, I teach in a girls’ school. There’s hundreds of girls who could babysit for me,” she said.
A lightbulb lit up in her head. “That’s the answer,” she thought. “I can get the girls to babysit and the money would go to the refugees. They could make $30 an hour. I wonder if I can get the girls to do three hours for Syria.”
She floated the idea past their year 10 class and the girls were excited. Mrs McPherson and St Mary’s principal,
Bernadette Stockman, threw in their full support. The girls ran with the idea, posting messages all around the school and holding a flashmob song and dance on the square to the tune of “Where is the Love?” to generate awareness of the project.
The weekend before, three St Mary’s girls held a bake sale on Ponsonby Rd for three hours and raised $360. They knew then that the project was feasible.
At the assembly, TV3 news anchor and journalist Mike McRoberts told the girls some of what he had seen when he covered the story about Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“In Lebanon, refugee camps aren’t acknowledged by the government there. That means: one, there is no funding for them. They rely on charitable institutions for help. And two, they can’t put up permanent structures. Every day, their tents have to be put down.
“If you think about children not being able to go to school for five years, we are talking about a lost generation,” he added.
St Mary’s College challenged St Peter’s College and Rosmini College to join them in their project. Both schools accepted.
St Peter’s year 10 boys Paulse Anithottam and Kew McSkimming accepted the challenge on their school’s behalf and took it a step further.
“We accept your challenge,” said Paulse. “And I reckon St Peter’s can do a better job.”
This was greeted with hoots and howls of disagreement from the St Mary’s girls.
The project is simple; “3 Hours for Syria” works on a voucher system in which family, friends, neighbours or employers are given vouchers.
The students give out the vouchers. They entitle the recipients to three hours labour such as babysitting, cleaning, gardening or washing cars. The voucher holder then donates to Caritas the amount equivalent to the labour they received.
Mrs McGivern hopes the project will catch on and that more schools get involved.
St Mary’s put up a Facebook page called “3 hours for Syria”. They hope people from other countries will pick it up as well.
“It could be the new ice bucket challenge,” she said.