Coming as a guest into people’s lives

By Grant Wildman

I sit here reading and being inspired by an email that has just arrived from our current crop of Year 11 students and staff reporting back from their first 3 days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is sparking lots of memories, and a strong feeling of familiarity that comes from repeat visits to a place […]

I sit here reading and being inspired by an email that has just arrived from our current crop of Year 11 students and staff reporting back from their first 3 days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is sparking lots of memories, and a strong feeling of familiarity that comes from repeat visits to a place with people you have grown to care about. You can add to these feelings a touch of green envy and so here I am quite blue that I cannot be with them! Then again, I know I will be back soon enough as I take my turn on a growing roster of available and committed staff who make up a sustainable and trained team of leaders here at Tatachilla Lutheran College, all of whom could step in and lead aspects of the experience.

As any teacher who has led service learning teams, it is often less about the service and more about the learning. This experience is no different. ‘Big ears, open eyes and hearts and closed mouths’ goes a long way to actually engaging in a respectful way with people that we are seeking to get to know and who’s lives we seek to understand. Brother Damien Prices’ oft quoted ‘guest’ analogy motivates both attitude and choices about activities as we build relationships with Pastor Daniel (Head of the Lutheran Church) his immediate family, and the wider ‘family’ of the Lutheran Church in Cambodia – especially staff and villagers at Phum Krus Village, Kampong Chhnang.

The genesis of this trip came as an experienced leader of such trips Mike Ebert arrived at the College at the same time that a Year 11 Christian, Religious and Values Education class had been looking at an example of grace in the form of one Tara Winkler (Australian Story) and her choice to follow a vocation into Cambodia. The students said, ‘wouldn’t it be great to actually go there and visit’ … Here we are 5 years later with our 3rd group of year 11’s all from one dedicated CRAVE class spending the year together doing pre-learning and contextualising, travelling together and then reflecting together about justice, aid, and ethics on their return. This is a strength of the way this opportunity is placed in our College’s Life. The staff member appointed to teach the class goes on the trip with the students.

Our own growth in understanding the ethics around such a trip in some ways has paralleled Tara Winkler’s own journey. We have all come to realise the range of ethical considerations needed to be addressed to avoid inadvertent abuse and exploitation of our own making. So it is, that as a class our students have the opportunity to explore sustainable ‘aid’, pollution, ‘orphanage tourism’ and abuse, fostering, ‘service tourism’, pollution, local economics and so on. Staff and students together approach this trip as a journey to find wisdom in whatever guise it may take and to come back better able to make God honouring choices in our own lives. One of the delights that students discover – apart from making connections with many people on the journey, is that with a little research they can almost have a ‘normal holiday’ and yet at every step make decisions that support rather than undermine local efforts at community development. Our students research and make decisions about where they will spend their money each day to engage with NGO’s that we can learn from. They look to understand the motive behind the NGO, their development and the contribution to the local communities among which they are placed. Students learn from ‘Children in Families’ (CIF) both here before they go and also in country, they visit restaurants that support recently saved sex slave trade workers or street people or disabled people. ‘Just-tees’ are engaged to print the team T-shirts before students travel and then become our host as we visit with them in country. A local winery -Molly Dooker Wines, has a connection to Transform Education centres in Cambodia, so we visit with that organisation and those specific sites … That is, after having the CEO Sarah come and visit to tell her story of Christian faith and vision for the endeavour. Inspiring stuff!

In the 2 week visit students start in Phnom Penh, travel to Kampong Chhnang and end in Siem Reap. Before going, students have listened to feedback from leaders at Krus Village who have been asked to outline how and what we could do to help them develop their work there. In the first year that meant the purchase of a motor bike to better enable staff to conduct English lessons in surrounding villages. Last year the church wanted to support at risk older women who had no extended family to support them. 4 small neat and dry homes were built. It was wonderful seeing the 24 year old Pastor Sophouen with her staff swinging hammers and bearing the brunt of the work – whilst being inadequately and humorously ‘supported’ by our students! That is very much the point – we go to support and develop the reputation and the effectiveness of our brothers and sisters in Krus so that their presentation of the ‘Good News’ comes to mean just that in tangible ways! This year our students are partnering in a longer range vision for two new classrooms to be built. The group did such a good job on their fundraising helped by the Year 9’s here at the college that a substantial amount will be invested into this project to make it possible.

An important aspect of embedding the support for the communities that we visit into the DNA of Tatachilla is to have younger year levels aspire to go and to own the sorts of development they hear about from returning students who visit and present to classes. We have just completed our Year 9 Crossroads ‘Festival of Service’ where they learn about Cambodia, our central Australian Trip to Ampilatwatja and the Shepparton Alternative schoolies options. 6 classes of Year 9’s learn about the sorts of support that leaders in each of those communities have identified. They then run a lunch of entertainment, food and games to raise funds for their chose community. It is motivating to think that in the future these students could go overseas and actually sit on a motorbike that previous year 9 students had fundraised for… or better… follow it through the leafy jungle to a little village to sit and participate in English lessons with the locals!


If your school would like to know more about how they can connect to the mission of God through a LCA International Mission service-learning and ministry partnership, you are invited to phone Erin on (08) 8267 7300 or email erin.kerber@lca.org.au. For more information, go to www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/service-learning/

Read more stories about school partnerships and school service-learning at www.lcamission.org.au/category/stories/local-partners/schools/

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About the Author : Erin Kerber


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