Tag Archives: school

October 24, Month of Mission: walking and working together.

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Lawrence Tukamushaba, M.Afr writes from  Kasama, Zambia, about youth work in Saint Anne’s parish. To read his post click here. After describing some of the successes of this ministry in a large parish with many communities, he touches on some challenges.

Family breakdown

A good number of our young people are raised by single parents; others have been orphaned at a young age and were brought up by their grandparents. Some have never met their fathers. Dealing with such young people needs spending time to listen to them and counselling them. Peer counselling is a skill that is needed.

The widening gap between Urban and Rural Youth

There is a growing gap between young people coming from urban and rural setups. In some areas, children have to walk 10 km on foot to reach the nearest primary school. In the rainy season, roads get really bad and some bridges are washed away. Added to that, the grass grows tall so that it becomes risky to walk in the bush and on top of all that some villages are widely scattered. In such areas it is difficult to find someone who has finished secondary school. This poses a challenge of leadership in the Church. It also increases a vicious circle of poverty.

Youth In the year 2017, I baptized 17 adults among whom were 8 school girls aged between 14 and 18 years of age who had dropped out of school. Later I discussed with their parents and church council how to ensure they go back to school. We must be interested in the formal education of our Christians if our ministry is to be transformative.

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8 September: Mary’s ‘Birthday’ and Education Sunday.

 

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

Of course we have no idea what date Mary’s birthday should be celebrated, she probably didn’t know herself. It was celebrated on this day in the VIth Century as an important stage in Salvation History; nobody is obliged to hold this feast, but we should always be thankful that Mary said ‘Yes’ to God, not just at the Annunciation but also in all those decisions a parent has to take when rearing a child.

Education Sunday is held in England and Wales by many churches. A time to pray for all involved in education, from Nurseries to Universities; indeed today’s writer, Maria Montessori, would have totally agreed with the Catholic Church’s assertion that parents are the first teachers of their children. Read her words and imagine Mary and Joseph’s  parenting.

We must come to a full understanding of the state of being of the newborn child. Only then will the absolute necessity of rendering easy his initiation into life become evident, The newborn child must become the object of knowledgeable care. Even holding him requires the utmost gentleness, and he should not be moved except with great tenderness. We should understand that in the first moment, and even in the first month, he should be kept very quiet.

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, p23.

 

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1 July: Into the forest

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I don’t think the ancient Israelites were altogether fond of the forest. One of the most vivid forest stories tells how Absalom, David’s rebel son, was caught by the hair as he rode under an oak tree while his mule galloped on without him. Absalom was a sitting duck for Joab and his men, who killed him, bringing David to tears. (2 Samuel 18, 19). Earlier, in Joshua 17, we read how the tribe of Joseph cleared away the forest to have room to settle and farm, a process that continues around the world to this day.

But something is lost as we clear the forest and then build suburbs over the resulting fields. Closeness to creation and the creator. Abel, at 3¾ years has found it at Forest School: he spends a day a week in the woods with his nursery school, getting muddy and enjoying himself among the trees. We would wait forever for him to tell us what he gets up to, but my teachers’ magazine ‘Educate’ tells how children are equal partners in learning and can take over the leadership of such sessions, under the guidance of their teachers.

One teacher, Jen Hawkes, says, ‘It’s about shared experiences and making friendships. They build a bond in the forest that helps them in the classroom. We’ve had lots of children making friendships who have previously struggled with that – which is so important, especially for mental health.’ So what the children do is by no means all that they learn out of doors. They learn to trust each other.

Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic in sending us schoolboys into the woods on half-holidays. There would be one or two at least in July; the priest-teachers were probably as sick of lessons as we were, and whatever we may have fancied they were up to in our absence, they no doubt had meetings to discuss our progress and all the routine matters that arise in any school. But we were free for the day. Note the seven pound jam tins, blackened from being used to cook a shared meal on the open fire to the left.  Glamping this was not!

Fifty-odd years after this photograph captured the moment, I am in touch with three of the lads shown. That says something for the bonds built in the forest and other parts of our shared life. Perhaps the Missionaries of Africa were prophetic!

MMB

 

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3 June: More Passion Flowers

 

passion.flower.st.Thomas.smI’m sure you’ll understand why I don’t usually take my phone to church, even if this one usually stays switched off when I switch it off. Not like the one that erupted into cacophonous life during an Archbishop’s sermon. This habit partly explains why I’ve only just added this picture of a passion flower from Saint Thomas’ Church in Canterbury. We looked at the symbolism of the flower a few months ago after we spotted some on tombstones in nearby Chartham. You can tell the Christian story with it.

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Here is the real thing, a promise of summer to come, and also of heaven to come! Saint Thomas’ flower is next to the sacristy door, the priest and servers process by the passion flower on the way to the altar to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus.

As we have remarked more than once, Jesus lived a lifelong passion. He enjoyed the world, loved it. He told us parables about the flowers of the field, trees and fruit, wine and wineskins, seeds and sowers, so it’s appropriate that we should have this little parable in stone in our Church, even if Jesus would not have known one in his earthly life.
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Would Jesus have known this plant, the hop? I don’t know, but it was very common in Kent back in the Nineteenth Century when the church was built, and is still grown in the local area for the brewing industry.  Hops were harvested by hand until after the Second World War, with whole families joining in; school holidays in Canterbury were adjusted to allow children and parents to go to the hop gardens legally rather than as truants!

The hops can be seen between two arches on the opposite side of the Church. They represent the people of Canterbury, and the work of their hands. So Christ’s offering and ours, depicted in stone on the walls of our Church: Laudato Si!

PS: So far we’ve not found carved passion flowers in any local churchyard that we’ve visited since Chartham.

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4 April. Before the Cross XX: Dancing in the blazing fiery furnace.

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When I first saw this picture that Rupert sent I had not read his reflection but I soon realised that our perceptions, thoughts and intuitions differed but in a creative way. Perhaps my grandson’s baptism attuned me to baptismal themes here. Thank you Rupert, for sharing this arresting image.

It was the dove descending that I first noticed, coming from the fiery light that overflows from the left hand side of the painting. The Spirit seems to be aiming for the water jar, just left of centre. ‘Fill the jars with water’, the Lord commanded at Cana, and the water and the wedding feast were transformed. To reinforce this connection, the jar at the very left has tongues of fire over it, the Spirit hovering over the waters. We are very much in John’s Gospel here: the cross is part of creation! There are six jars, as at Cana, and a basin in which to wash each other’s feet as in John’s account of the Last Supper.

The figures at the top right are in an attitude of adoration, which they express physically, they are not mere armchair Christians. And their attitude, their bowing, is athletic rather than abject. Thus is fear and trembling felt at a moment of great joy.

The three dancers across the middle of the painting are in harmony rather than unison with each other: there are may ways for Christians to be united, after all, but all hear and react to the same music.

The Cross – the blood-spattered Cross as Rupert points out – dominates the space, but is not a symbol of defeat. Rather like an Eschler work, its perspective is more than two dimensional, thrusting out of the frame, And where its shadow would be, were it not a blaze of light, the Light of the World, the undefeated Christ is carrying his banner forward. The dancers have seen him and respond in joy: the fourth person has appeared in the blazing fiery furnace: they are joyful, suffering, people of the light.

MMB.

Worship by Jun Ramosmos.

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28 October: Challenges can be productive.

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Challenges can be productive. When I was working with 17 year olds with emotional and learning disabilities we introduced a sticker and reward system, tied to an end of week assembly. Stickers earned chocolate bars, for staff as well as students.

Keith was away when we started the scheme, and stood out against it for a fortnight after his return, branding it ‘babyish’.

His participation followed a number of episodes when we had to challenge his behaviour, while his colleagues were being rewarded for theirs. We said that we expected him to be setting an example of adult behaviour to the others. We reminded him of the loyalty cards and rewards offered by shops and restaurants around the town, which plenty of adults were prepared to accept.

Keith challenged us to think the scheme through and justify it to him as something for adults, not simply childish patronising. We challenged him to stand back and look at his own behaviour and how he wanted to be seen – as one of the group or a perpetual outsider? On many levels he was justified in feeling angry at being sent to a boarding school, miles from home, but every other student was in the same boat. School was not forever. Could he live the rest of his life in perpetual conflict? I hope he has found a way not to!

MMB

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6 October: The Beggar by the station: what would you do?

Usually the only people wanting to stop passers-by on Station Road are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they do not sit in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk) with a hat on the flagstone beside them.

Often these beggars mumble a few words, asking for change. They may look at the floor, but they do not turn away their heads. This young woman did. She looked like Ruby, but with more flesh on her bones than when I taught her; I wasn’t sure.

Deliberately, I slowed down. She twisted herself even further away from any eye contact. She did not want to speak to me. A few metres on, and I turned about. Again she was turned away from me, deliberately, in the opposite direction this time.

I felt obliged to respect this decision, whether or not it was Ruby there. But if it happens again …

Other ex-pupils have crossed the street to avoid me; some have even crossed the street to  say hello. But such friendliness is a precious gift that they can withhold or offer as they see fit. I felt obliged to respect Ruby’s decision. If it was Ruby. Or even someone else.

I shared this story with Christina, who commented: 

In my encounter with the poor man on the street, I don’t believe that I chose wisely because I made my decision based on all of the wrong reasons. I was thinking of myself more than of him. In your encounter with Ruby, however, you made your decision based on all of the right reasons, thinking of her and of what she wanted, whether she was Ruby or not. There is that saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” but you gave her the dignity of choice. You may have wished very much that she had chosen differently, so that you could help her in some way… I wonder if this is like God in his relationship with us. So many times, He wishes that we would look over to Him, to let Him into our lives. But sometimes we sense our nakedness too sharply and would rather hide our faces from Him. In His love, He allows us this choice, though it breaks His heart.
Pax Christi

 

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23 June: What became of …

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Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

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While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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May 30: P is for Portsmouth and car Parks

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This shows the Southsea end of Portsmouth from the Isle of Wight Ferry. I went to school behind those trees.

Genteel Southsea rather held its skirts away from the main city, I felt, a city that had not recovered from the Second World War and the subsequent reduction in British sea power. Once, on the way to the ferry, I took my family to sea the ugliest building in Britain, the brutalist Tricorn car park, a favourite suicide spot. Our big car park in Canterbury was not so ugly, except that it too attracted would-be suicides. Whatever the buildings’ style, they were places of great sadness; we are better off without them.

Of course getting rid of multi-storey car parks cannot take away people’s distress. But sometimes it falls to us to help, even if just to be there with them.

The rest of this post is from the Samaritans’ website. Worth reading for the odd moment when something feels not quite right.

MMB

How you can help

Suicidal feelings can be overwhelming, but they will pass.

How someone behaves in this brief window is as unique as the individual themselves. But there are signs you can look out for.

Signs someone may need help

  • Looking distant, withdrawn or upset
  • Standing alone or in an isolated spot
  • Staying on the platform for long periods of time/failing to catch trains that stop

Someone looking out of place or a feeling that ‘something isn’t quite right’. If you feel that way about someone, trust your instincts and try to help.

Approaching someone in need

We know that when a person is suicidal having someone to talk to them and listen to them, and showing that they are not alone, can encourage them to seek support. There is no evidence that talking to someone who could be at risk will ‘make things worse’.

A little small talk can be all it takes to interrupt someone’s suicidal thoughts and help start them on a journey to recovery. If you think that someone might need help, trust your instincts and strike up a conversation, with a comment about the weather for example. Life-saving questions used by rail staff to help people have included:

  • Do you need any help?
  • What’s your name?
  • It’s a warm evening isn’t it?
  • What train are you going to get?

So strike up a conversation if you feel comfortable and it’s safe to do so. Or tell a member of staff or call 999. Your involvement could help save someone’s live.

What you can do if the person needs further help

If you sense the person might need help after your initial approach, then you could ask directly if they’re ok.

You could introduce yourself and encourage them to talk if you can, and listen. You could then offer to take them to a safer environment where you’re able to get them the right support.

Tell a member of railway staff as soon as you can, or call 999.

Rail safety

We do not recommend you make any kind of physical contact. If the situation is an emergency, eg the person in on the track, tell station staff or call 999 immediately. Do not go onto the railway line under any circumstances.

Looking after yourself

Interventions make a huge and positive difference. It can be emotional and if you feel you would like some support after making an intervention or would like to talk to someone about it, you can speak to Samaritans by calling 116 123.

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28 June: Shared Table X: Food Banks

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More than a million 3 day emergency food parcels were given out by British food banks in 2015-2016. Read more about it here: what food banks do . This does not include parcels given directly by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and other organisations.

I know people who have greatly benefited from this service. One mother often seems to have more teabags than she needs, but this means that she is able to share her surplus with others. That feels good!

Another interesting story was in The Observer on 4th December last. A Dublin organisation was able to establish deliveries of fresh food that a supermarket would have dumped to a women’s refuge. This abundance brought the women out of themselves and they began to share: to share food, to share a kitchen (I find that a real challenge!), to share recipes, to be good to each other.

Please pop a few cans into the collection baskets at your supermarket or church and help your local food bank keep going. Summertime, and the living will not be so easy when the children do not get their free school meals!

 

WT.

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