During the 2016 June/July school holidays, 41 Year 11 students and five teachers went to Vietnam and Cambodia on the school’s annual Extra Mile Project Tour.
Before leaving, the group raised a staggering $34,000 to donate to these communities in various ways.
During the mission Arden students renovated a school playground, built 14 houses, planted mango trees, played with and cared for children in orphanages and visited a Cambodian school. The team also learnt about the history of the countries they were serving, which gave students an insight into what hardships these countries are facing and why. This understanding enhanced their care and compassion for the locals they interacted with and filled them with a strong desire to help make a difference in their lives. As Dora Benn (Year 11) commented: “I thought that learning about the history of each country was very important but the biggest highlight for me would be the opportunities we had to do something to help the affected communities as a response.”
Arden’s 2016 Cambodia and Vietnam Mission Tour Coordinator, Mrs Elizabeth Dunn, explained: “In the Mekong Delta we started off with a slightly different school renovation; we were asked to renovate the school playground. Laying pavers in the yard provided the students with an outdoor area they can now use during the wet season as well as the dry season. Whilst it sounded like a simple brief, without modern tools, running water and electricity, we found it tough. When completed, the local students came to see the work and we were able to provide each one of them with a years’ worth of school supplies – the looks of happiness and excitement on their faces were a memory I will treasure.”
Mrs Dunn continued: “During the orphanage visits, the Arden students assisted wherever needed, including racing wheelchairs for fun, blowing up balloons or feeding the children. They were able to see past the children’s disabilities or problems, and saw the children’s individual personalities and worth. Our students were just happy to be able to help and were moved to see the joy our visit created for these children.” Maja Pavic (Year 11) said: “The highlights of the trip were visiting the local children and understanding their way of life and how a simple object like a balloon can bring so much joy and happiness to their lives. I also thoroughly enjoyed the projects and giving back to the communities less fortunate than myself.” Annalise Ombler (Year 11) agreed, saying: “I loved the orphanages and making the kids smile, also learning about the history was really hard but amazing to know and to understand why we were doing what we did.”
This year the team planted mango trees in a new location, with the aim of helping the villagers towards their goal of becoming self-sufficient in the future. Mrs Dunn explained: “This was especially important as many of the villagers had lost their businesses due to a government requirement to vacate the world heritage listed temple site where they had previously worked and relocate elsewhere.”
Another change this year was that Arden students visited a school that was teaching Cambodian children to speak English, with the aim to increasing their chance of gaining future employment. Mrs Dunn shared: “Our students couldn’t believe how resourceful they were with such minimal equipment. This school visit turned into a trip highlight with the students enjoying singing songs together, playing soccer, chatting and playing games.” Joyce Lim (Year 11) was impressed by: “The way the children have so little, yet they were very resourceful with what they have to make things they could use for games.”
When asked how the Mission impacted their lives and perspectives, Arden students shared:
- “Challenged my faith and what I want to do in the future. Really taught me how lucky I am and that the world needs my help.” Grace deRijk (Year 11).
- “It has challenged my view on poverty and the capabilities of the children in these countries. They were so happy and intelligent and did not let their socioeconomic circumstances worsen their attitudes to life.” Caitlin Gerrard (Year 11).
- “I see injustice and I also see suffering on the street as a result of war and corrupt governments. Having the opportunity to physically serve has given me a desire to selflessly serve others more, because in Australia we have the power and the resources to do so.” Justin McLean (Year 11).
- “The trip has not only given me perspective as to our wealth in Australia, but also challenged me to have more of an impact and live my life in less of a safe, western bubble.” Owen Marsden-Readford (Year 11).
Summarising the experience, a proud Mrs Dunn concluded: “The trip was a lot wetter than previous years, seeing numerous projects completed in the rain. Our team never let the rain deter them from their mission, which showed their strength and determination to serve others. The students got a taste of the different types of physical mission work you can do to help others in need and got ideas on how they could serve in the future. I was incredibly proud of their Christlike compassion with which they tackled every day. They truly embodied our Arden values of Hope, Compassion, Love, Service, Courage and Respect.”