By Caroline Smith
Students and staff from Emmanuel Catholic College in Success enjoyed a week-long program of cultural immersion last month when they visited Ngalangangpum School Warmun to learn more about the Aboriginal culture of the Kija people and their connection to the land.
Seven students from Year 11 and three staff members took part in the visit from Sunday 30 July to Sunday 6 August, spending time at the remote Kimberley school, where they served breakfast, helped out in the classroom and provided other support.
Their cultural learning was supported through their taking part in a smoking ceremony and a water blessing.
Dean of Religious Education and Faith Formation Miranda Dempsey – one of the staff members in attendance – said the visit had provided students with many valuable experiences and knowledge.
“Some of the highlights of our stay included the bus run to pick up students each day, learning about the local area and history from Sister Julienne, getting to know the kids and hanging out with them at morning and afternoon breaks and sometime after school,” she said.
“During the cross cultural talk we had on our first day, we heard about the difficulties the community has gone through: some of the issues included long forgotten massacres due to the pastoralists, the displacement from their land and more recently, the devastation caused by the floods in 2011.
“The children themselves have very little and are often faced with hardships, but the entire community was so happy with what they had; it was a very inspiring thing to see.”
The two groups of staff and students also shared a Mass on Monday, celebrated by Father Joel Nyongesa from Kununurra.
“This was a unique experience with Mass celebrated in a circle, with a mix of English, Kija and clapping sticks,” Ms Dempsey said.
She added that by taking part in regular activities at Ngalangangpum School Warmun, and learning about the area’s history, Emmanuel students grew to appreciate some of the issues faced by Aboriginal students in remote areas.
“The most eye-opening aspect of our trip was the different lifestyles that the children lead compared to the students here in Perth,” Ms Dempsey said.
“We saw a major reliance on the school in terms of sanitation and basic needs. Children would come to school to have breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea which was provided by the school, shower in the morning, clean their teeth, wash their clothes and even sleep at school.
“Most students would have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from family issues, or even the floods that devastated the community in 2011. The school accommodated for these issues and incorporated calming techniques within classes. In this aspect, the school staff have forever earned our admiration and respect for the work that they do to make the kids’ lives better.”
During their trip, students also visited the well-known Warmun Art Centre and the World Heritage listed Purnululu National Park which includes the Bungle Bungles Range.