A personal reflection by Ashleigh Green who studied Media and Communications at the University of Sydney and currently works at the Columban Mission Institute.
“Imagine your brothers, sisters, your mothers, your nieces, your nephews, your children… Now open your eyes. In the time that you took closing your eyes and thinking of your people, imagine now that all those people disappeared from the face of this earth just in that minute. That’s my life in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
It was a moving opening to St Joseph’s Catholic College East Gosford’s inaugural “Girls…Why Bother?” social justice evening on 16th June. Hundreds of St Joseph’s students, teachers and families gathered at the college for an evening of inspiring talks, music, Fairtrade pop-up shops and information stalls.
“The evening had two purposes,” Youth Ministry Coordinator Fiona Green explains. “Firstly, I wanted the night to help people become aware of some of the injustices faced by girls and women globally. Secondly, I wanted to empower our students and all people who attended the evening to work towards creating a more just world for all girls and women.”
The four guest speakers were local Central Coast women – all ordinary women who have done something a little “extra” to become extraordinary.
Tealyn Lonergan, ex-student of St Peter’s Catholic College Tuggerah and founder of Project Opportunity, recalled being a 13-year-old who wanted to make a difference in the world but believed she was incapable of greatness. “Everything changed the day I realised that it doesn’t take somebody special or amazing to make a change,” Tealyn said. At the age of 22 Tealyn founded Project Opportunity, a charity that enables street-children in India to reach their full potential through education and a safe, loving home. “All it takes is for someone to be willing to step forward and say, I will,” Tealyn said.
St Joseph’s ex-student, Laura Tyne, who graduated from the college in 2012 spoke about her ongoing work with homeless and marginalised women in Sydney. After completing her HSC, Laura signed up for the Salvation Army’s Edify Internship Program and she has spent the last year and a half living in community with some of Sydney’s most disadvantaged people. Laura’s goal is to empower women to be strong, healthy, confident individuals. Poverty, she has learnt, is not all that far away.
After reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof, new mum Kristy Fox and two of her friends were so moved by the stories told in the book that they just had to “do something.” After hearing that six km is the average distance women walk on a daily basis to collect water in some developing countries, the women organised a six km walk for local women on the Central Coast. The walk was a show of solidarity for sisters across the planet, as well as a chance to raise awareness and funds for women living in developing countries. Overwhelmed with support for this initiative, the Central Coast Circle of Women was founded and became a point of connection for women of the Central Coast who were interested in social justice issues.
Pollyanna Foreshaw concluded the evening with stories from her several trips to East Timor where she has volunteered as a teacher with Palms Australia. Pollyanna offered a brilliant example of what it looks like to be a mother, a social justice activist and a seasoned world traveller. After retiring from her career as a teacher, Polly continues to lead groups of students on overseas mission trips. She offers younger women an image of what it looks like to be an agent of change in the world.
Despite the harrowing statistics pinned up on walls and tables – that one third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18, that school is not free in over 50 countries, and that babies born to illiterate mothers are twice as likely to suffer from malnutrition – there was a great sense of hope in the room.
Seeing five incredible local women take the stage and share their common passion for justice gave me hope.
Seeing St Joseph’s students as young as thirteen dress up as child brides, run cake stalls and share information about the state of the world’s girls gave me hope.
Hearing a mother, at the end of the night, tell another mother about her resolution to talk more to her children about social justice gave me hope.
I left feeling outraged at the reality of life for girls around the world, challenged by the task ahead and confident that, together, we can do something about it. We don’t need to be extraordinary. We just need lots of ordinary people to come together, pull together our gifts and talents, and agree that the current state of the world’s girls is not good enough.