“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
These words of Aboriginal academic and activist, Lilla Watson, were echoed more than once at the inaugural Transforming Service gathering in Brisbane this April. 130 school chaplains and service learning educators from Anglican, Catholic, Uniting Church and Lutheran schools gathered to share expertise and to discuss the connection between service in the community and the aspiration of schools to form students who are spiritually aware, culturally competent and equipped to engage with local and global challenges.
Service Learning as a particular activity within schools has arisen from the recognition that serving others not only affects the ones being served, it also involves deep learning and change for those who are doing the ‘serving’. In fact, often those involved in service activities gain much more from the interaction than the people they set out to help. In a very real sense our tacit assumptions that ‘serving’ is a hierarchical activity where we bestow service upon another is turned on its head – transformed!
Service Learning… involves deep learning and change for those who are doing the ‘serving’
Transforming Service was a 3 day conversation about the things that schools are doing which enable young people to discover the innate dignity of each person and to be deeply present to another. Different schools showcased their own programs and lessons that had been learned. Some of the presenters and delegates have spent much of their lives at the intersection of social concerns and educational communities. Br Damien Price emphasised that our ability to behave as guests is a psycho-cognitive strength which is developed by experiences like visiting a nursing home or helping with a soup van.
School chaplain, Richard Browning talked about the critical importance of relationship and the need to ensure that every service learning encounter promotes autonomy, freedom and flourishing. It was a point reinforced by Sister Len Montiel from Cambodia who spoke about her frustration when a group who worked alongside her young students to paint a wall in their school ‘branded’ the wall with the name of the ‘servers’.
Good deeds…may do more harm than good if not connected with interior disciplines of deep listening
Priest and academic, Sarah Bachelard spoke about the potential dangers of regularly exhorting students to ‘make a difference’. She argued that a surface focus on good deeds, no matter how well intentioned, may do more harm than good if not connected with interior disciplines of deep listening, reflection and the ability to be present to people and situations in a way which is neither invasive nor evasive.
Transforming Service was organised by a group of people from the Anglican Board of Mission, the Anglican Schools Commission in Southern QLD, Brisbane Catholic Education and Caritas Australia. It was sponsored by Australian Catholic University. To discover more about the conference, including papers from the keynote presenters and video recordings, visit www.transformingservice.com