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The Character of MECS Centre Trip

The Character of MECS Centre Trip

Thursday, 23 October 2014  | Dr Roger F - Centre Trip Leader
The MECS Centre trip has been running for over 30 years and it would be fair to say that the modern trip is markedly different from the original. The focus of the modern trip has to do with the calling of students to participate in the white Australia / black Australia reconciliation process. Preparation for the trip begins with Warlpiri, World Views and Science classes each of which helps students to understand and cope with the challenges presented by the trip: Warlpiri language and the associated cultural study specifically help students to understand the Warlpiri people and the daily burdens that they bear; World Views prepares students to understand the religious character of human beings and science helps students understand the special challenges that living creatures face as they live in the harsh, dry desert environment.

Of these three, the teaching of the Warlpiri language is probably the most critical. When our students visit Yuendumu, the fact that they have studied and learned Warlpiri, is of enormous encouragement to the local community. We begin our visit to Yuendumu by singing a Warlpiri song to the school assembly and this simple performance sets apart our school from the myriad of other groups that visit Yuendumu. The teaching of Warlpiri takes MECS’ visit away from a tourist or cultural experience and places it firmly in the realms of an empathetic experience. Our four day visit is short and without this language key, our trip could degenerate into a ‘hit and run’ short-term cultural awareness episode with no long term impact on the participants. The language helps enormously with our interactions with the school community and the local Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation (WYDAC) organisation.

This latter organisation offers our students the opportunity to interact with indigenous youth closer to their age as opposed to the ‘cute’ primary age students that they so readily spend time with. There is some evidence that this fleeting short term interaction with these primary age students does more harm than good. On the other hand, interacting with students of their own age can be enormously valuable and helpful. Following our visit last year, we established a series of Skype sessions that enabled one of our students to continue his relationship with a young Warlpiri man. This interaction was significant in encouraging school attendance for that young man. It is a sobering thought for our young people to understand that the life path for an indigenous person of similar age is one that typically leads to unemployment, chronic health problems (diabetes, kidney, liver and heart), possible substance abuse and early death. It is therefore vital that the Centre Trip experience continues to confront and challenge our young people so that by God’s Spirit they may be disturbed to the point of action.

The trip also offers significant outdoor education challenges in the form of long hikes and bush camping. The trip has always provided the bush camp experience, however, with the typical Year 10 student being somewhat less resilient than in the past, the bush camp experience has been ‘softened/diluted’ over the past few years. We now have toilets dug for the girls, a generator is run to provide electricity and if conditions are considered at all ‘risky’ (wind and rain), the outdoor camping may be abandoned. It is my hope that future Centre Trips will still provide bush camps. They not only offer opportunities for silence, solitude and reflection but they help build community and individual resilience. Sleeping on a tarpaulin with the night sky above is for most students, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Spending 18 days away from the technology (including mobile phones, iPods, Facebook) of home and the comforts of family can be truly challenging for all concerned, but it does enable students to grow spiritually and emotionally. It has been wonderful to witness the way so many students mature by going on the Centre trip, as they learn to work in community, consider each other’s needs as well as their own, and to become more independent at the same time.

Finally, it is important to acknowledge the selfless giving of all the Centre trip staff in making this journey possible - the teachers who give up their September holidays and are on duty from before the sun rises until well into the night for the entirety of the trip, and the cooks and helpers who provide amazing meals for us. This team is capably led by Peter Beams who does a remarkable job in providing for all our needs. For all of these staff members we give thanks.
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