A Newsletter of the Schools Justice Network of
Edmund Rice Christian Brothers of the Americas
Vol. 1 No. 7
Schools Justice Network Conference 2011
Reflections on the SJN Conference: "Joining for Action "
By Daniel Devincenzi ; Translation by Glennis Oliver
It is always a pleasure to reunite with the people you value, respect and appreciate. The second Schools Justice Network Conference held in Tampa, Florida (USA) at the Bethany Center, a modern and comfortable retreat center, provided an opportunity for this to happen and also to meet and make new friends. Ever since the inaugural conference (April-May 2009) in the city of New Orleans, when the Schools Justice Network was established, its mission established and the first Executive Committee were elected, we were committed to working towards the "coordination of educational efforts in solidarity with the poor and care of the Earth in the light of the Gospel" and to be " a source and diffuser of the programs of action and reflection by staff and students."
One year and ten months after these initial activities, which were shared by various schools across the Americas, the Schools Justice Network was meeting up again to renew its strength by looking at new themes. The conference was conducted with great warmth and professionalism by Sister Ona Bessette, CND, Director of the Office of Educational Services for the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers North America.
Br. Kevin Cawley,CFC, Director of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, opened the conference and spoke about the care of the earth by pointing out some important landmarks and signs that show our planet's environmental problems and how to respond holistically to such challenges. This was followed by Br. Moy Hitchen, CFC, Edmund Rice International, who reported on ERI activities at an international level which, along with other NGOs, include activities designed to establish respect for the rights and protection of tens of millions of migrants worldwide.
Then Glennis Oliver and Daniel Devincenzi (Eco-Justice at Cardinal Newman College, Argentina) talked about the activities started at their school which has as an achievable goal of transforming itself into a sustainable school. The presentation showed the positive aspects as well as the challenges which lie ahead in order to achieve this goal.
John Zokovitch of Pax Christi USA spoke about Advocacy. Using the common definition of advocacy as asking us "to be the voice of those who have none", John Zokovitch extended this by proposing that we " be agents of change in society" and that advocacy is "the power of bearing witness" and that there should be "action before talk. " He believes that there is a strong connection with solidarity work concluding that " advocacy and justice are two sides of the same coin. "
Br. Ben McDonough, CFC, from Bonita Springs, introduced us to the last theme of the conference, the plight of migrants. Brother shared his experiences working with migrant families in Southern Florida. He gave us a glimpse of the human face of this reality. His stories reinforced the facts portrayed in the movie Dying to Live: The Migrants Journey. This presentation showed us the crude reality of the migrants and their families in their search for a better life; a heartbreaking tale.
Immersion Experience with Migrant Workers
No less striking was the experience of our immersion into the reality of migrant workers, mostly of Mexican origin, in Plant City, FL, outside of Tampa. We were welcomed by local people from St. Clement Parish Office of Migrant Services. Many of the women we met who work the migrant families were once immigrants themselves. We visited centers for under school age children which is funded by a federal program to help children of migrant families. There they receive education, food and counseling for their families.
Time was spent in strawberries fields getting a brief experience of the life and the work the migrants workers. They were harvesting strawberries, a back breaking job where they move along long lines of strawberry plants with a small cart , crouching all the way and with great skill and speed picking the strawberries and packaging them into plastic boxes. When their cart is full they put the large wooden box on their shoulders and "run" to leave it in a truck where the foreman takes note of the boxes delivered. The rush to get there is because they are paid by the number of boxes they fill. My partner and I had a go at this work and filled one box. We do not recommend this to anyone as our lack of training was obvious but the pain in our backs after just one box collection was very noticeable. Thus behind the boxes of supermarket strawberries there are men and women, people who deserve dignity, and who are doing this work repetitively for up to 10 hours a day.
Is this just a problem in the U.S.? Did something similar not happen in many European countries? What about Argentina? Not long ago clandestine textile sweatshops were found in Buenos Aires where illegal immigrants were working in conditions of slavery, and this was only a few blocks away from the Government House.
Millions of people are refugees in the world, the problem has many facets (wars, political persecution, environmental disaster, famine, etc.) and the solution must be global, in the area of the United Nations, but to paraphrase an expression we use when we talk about environmental issues, "think globally but act locally" is still a good option.
In short, this was a conference where the first and encouraging steps taken by the organization were seen, a new Executive Committee was chosen (I was honored to be reelected), the commitment to ecojustice was reiterated and new challenges were presented. The main request by many of the participants is that the strength of Schools Justice Network is the "joining together for action."
Next Steps for the Schools Justice Network
The Next Steps for SJN After spending two and a half days together at Bethany Center, the School Justice Network representatives from fourteen schools, identified hopes and direction for the group for the next two years. The hopes the work of SJN as it moves forward were expressed as a call to:
Develop a common focus for the Justice Network across all the schools
Coordinate and share projects for service and advocacy for justice with other schools in the network
Increase justice advocacy across the ERCB network of schools
Plan an Edmund Rice Week in all schools for the advocacy of justice
Develop an advocacy strategy around issues of importance, such as immigration and care of the Earth
Research curriculum development strategies to advocate for immigrants and care of the Earth
Establish strong links between SJN representatives, ACTION moderators and school leaders
Hold another conference in two years to maintain momentum and strengthen the network.
The Executive Committee, composed of Tom Gambardella (Chair, Bishop Hendricken HS), Daniel Devincenzi (Colegio Cardenal Newman), Bernie Kully (St. Thomas More Collegiate), Jay Louis-Prescott (Br. Rice HS Bloomfield Hills), Douglas Romanik (ACND) and Glennis Oliver (Colegio Cardenal Newman), will guide the Network to realize these hopes and chart a course for the coming two years.
Other Reflections of Participants
Jay Louis-Prescott (Br. Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, MI)
The SJN Conference was terrific; a great time to interact with like-minded educators from other ERCB schools, and to be presented with some great ideas and educational material. What most struck me was the reality of the migrant worker life. The realization that the growers NEED the migrants, documented or not, is an eye-opener at a time when our government(s) are seeking to restrict immigration from south of the border. We also came away with tremendous resource material, especially from Kevin Cawley and the JPIC website.
My personal plan is to incorporate the issue of immigration policy into the Social Justice class at Brother Rice beyond the 4 or 5 pages worth of material that is scattered throughout the text. I also intend to seek more opportunities for advocacy for the students most likely in the form of letter-writing. At school we hope to create an Environmental Club of some sort during the next school year.
Bernie Kully (St. Thomas More Collegiate, Burnaby, BC)
I was impressed with the pace and amount of learning that occurred while at the SJN conference. There was a great deal of information that was given to the participants in a relatively short period of time. The things that had the greatest impact on my personally were the talk on Advocacy by John Zokovitch from Pax Christi USA and the whole of the immersion experience in Plant City. I think daily about the difference between charity and advocacy and have shared this idea to colleagues, friends and students in my classroom. Additionally, the immersion experienced made me think about how migration is a continuing issue for both Canada and the United States. The immersion experience offered a glimpse into the day to day struggles of those affected by migration and how people struggle to survive in developed countries like Canada and the United States.
Since I have returned to Saint Thomas More Collegiate I have talked to staff and students about my experiences in Florida. Although I can show pictures and give descriptions of what I saw and experienced I feel that I cannot adequately describe everything that happened to me during the conference. What I was able to experience firsthand will reside with me for some time to come and I will continue to both reflect and share my experience. I am thankful for the opportunity to attend the SJN Conference and will continue to work on having this experience be a spring board for things to come in the future.
Bethany Retreat Center
NEWS FROM THE SCHOOLS
The Joy of Service A Report from Palma School Salinas, CA
Jim Micheletti, Campus Minister
Joyfully, as Mother said, we participate in the sorrows of the world. This year has proved epiphanic for me with regards to the joy of serving in solidarity with others. There is much to smile about this year.
Palma School, CA moved some 50,000 pounds of food into the hands of the poor. We gleaned lettuce, broccoli, and strawberries for Ag Against Hunger. This agency delivers food to homeless shelters throughout California. During Christmas, an annual collection and giveaway had dozens of students working side by side with the impoverished to create gift packages of food and other necessities. Every month we load and deliver a few tons or rice and beans, and often clothes and toys, to local camps for migrant workers.
During Lent, Palma School has a tradition of holding evening Masses. This year we chose a theme: They Are Our Children based on Bishop Garcias Pastoral Letter of the same title. Each celebrant related the Gospel to this theme. This connected seamlessly with our Action Leaders goal to get all of our students and staff to the Center for Life after school at least once. While short of getting everyone to go, our participation was hugely significant. With our neighboring sister school, Notre Dame, each week at least two vans full of students went to the Center. The Center for Life provides shelter, tutoring, and mentoring for younger students in gang endangered East Salinas.
During these Masses, another student was inspired to raise consciousness and collect goods for Get on the Bus, an agency that connects children with their incarcerated parents, providing them a ride to and from the prison, counseling, and gifts (like photo frames so that the jailed parent can keep a picture of his or her child near). A student spoke after each Lenten Mass and hundreds of items were collected for this program. Get on the Bus is one of the few programs we know that actually works for reducing rates of recidivism with inmates. It strikes at the root. Coupled with our interventions for gang prevention at the Center for Life, much has been done to elevate charity to advocacy this year.
The joy of service comes directly from knowing we are not just hacking at the branches of evil but striking at the root of the poisoned tree. Students smile when they feel empowered and in touch with Gods will for them. I am oh-so privileged to witness this. We have much work to do, but we have had a stellar year in ministry, and I credit the Social Justice Network for charging us with much action, more reflection, and yes, some holy transformation.
For next year we are entertaining a trip to Lima, Peru. Each year we build a home in Mexico. Next year we are hoping to take on the added challenge of a week in Lima to visit the Brothers, build homes, and hike Machu Picchu (for a lesson in history and the eco-spirituality of the rain forest).
The Center for Life, East Salinas, CA
Eco Justice at Cardinal Newman College, Buenos Aires
-- Daniel Devincenzi ; Translation by Glennis Oliver
At Cardinal Newman College Our Eco Justice action group is particularly committed to the ideals of the Schools Justice Network and with the Congregation of Christian Brothers in general. During this year we will continue with the campaigns to collect plastic bottle tops and paper for recycling to support the Garrahan Children's Hospital Foundation, we will begin the construction of the prototype of a Biodigestor for organic waste with some of our Science students and move forward with ideas and actions in our main objective: "to become a sustainable school."
A further meeting with management and staff of Stella Maris College in Montevideo, Oriental Republic of Uruguay, is planned so they can have the opportunity to contribute to the School Justice Network and develop strategies for action on related issues.
In our efforts to move forward in promoting the Earth Charter we set up some activities within the Arts Faculty. In the second half of this year we will conduct briefings on the Earth Charter and its values, then Photography students will visit the local Ecological Reserve in San Isidro and exhibit a series of photographs taken there. There will be an Instrumental Ensemble Competition open to students in the band workshop and any other college student wishing to participate, which consists of creating a song with lyrics and music inspired by the Earth Charter. Our fine art students will create works (sculpture or painting) based on the same topic for inspiration.
This year our school academic magazine, Forum, is to be dedicated to Eco Justice, with several international and Argentine personalities writing on different aspects related to this topic. Later, on a date not yet established, there will be a discussion panel, open to the community, with guests speakers invited to discuss Eco justice.
A Service Project in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands ?
--Kevin Kelton Iona Prep, New Rochelle, NY
One often gets that kind of incredulity when informing others about our new service immersion program! But, why not? St. Croix, while it is a tropical paradise, remains a rather poor island, with a low level of education, high unemployment, and career opportunities limited to seasonal tourism and agriculture. In addition, the mix of native, African, and Latino cultures alongside Anglo cultures makes it quite a compelling destination to discuss issues of race, opportunity, poverty, and social justice. Thus, while we had plenty of time in the sun, the experience went far beyond a superficial vacation at the beach. The seed for the program was planted during a conversation between our President, Brother Thomas Leto, CFC and a good friend of his, Dr. Susan Diverio, from the Women s Coalition of St. Croix. Wouldnt it be a good idea to mix service with cultural immersion and a student exchange? Thats how the program came to life. Dr. Diverio did the bulk of organizing on the island. She obtained housing at an eco-retreat and learning center called Discovery Grove and coordinated with their Program Coordinator, Mr. John Dain. A major highlight for many of the participants was a cultural exchange with students from St. Joseph's Catholic High School that Dr. Diverio also arranged. Among the service opportunities that students were engaged in were tutoring high school dropouts and children in an after-school program, visiting a youth incarceration facility, painting and other physical labor at two sites, and beach clean-ups. In between the service and cultural aspects of the trip, the students enjoyed a snorkeling trip, a night time kayak trip in a phosphorescent bay, hiking, and, of course, beach time. Besides the obvious advantage of being on a beautiful Caribbean island in mid-winter (our February break), the seven students who participated were most touched by the stories of poverty and neglect and the myriad of new things they learned about nature from Mr. Dain. At present, we are evaluating the program and researching housing options, ways to keep it cost-effective, and how it can be more focused on the service aspects. Nonetheless, we feel that the program was an invaluable introduction to island culture, a wonderful mix of social, service, and cultural experiences, and a great chance to build community. (some pictures included below)
The eco-retreat center, Discovery Grove
The two student groups enjoying some down-time.
Sunrise from the easternmost point of the United States.
Notes from Sr. Ona
While I was at the NCEA (National Catholic Educational Association) Convention this April, I was particularly focused on gathering some resources for the SJN Network. Listed below are some websites for areas of interest I identified at the convention.
1. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Global Poverty: http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/globalpoverty/ Resources from USCCB and Catholic Relief Services to address issues of fair trade, debt cancellation, migration, climate change, and promote peace building and diplomacy
3. Catholic Relief Services Education Site: http://education.crs.org/ Resource Programs: Standing as One Human Family: A Peer Education and Leadership Program on Global Solidarity Solidarity Will Transform the World: Stories of Hope from Catholic Relief Services
5. Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/ Resources for ending the use of the death penalty in US. Availability of script for student production of the play, Dead Man Walking: A School Theatre Project
6. for Life: http://www.h2oforlifeschools.org/ Provides transformational service learning opportunities for schools in the US to partner with a school in a developing country that needs WATER.
All of of the links above are now on the JPIC website. Look in the right hand column on the site. The links are listed under various categories. The majority can be found under the heading of the US Catholic Bishops conference. JPIC Website link: http://edmundriceinternational.org/jpic
Edmund Rice International is again urging support for the Caritas letter-writing campign on behalf of children with HIV/AIDS.
Resource materials are currently being distributed to all Edmund Rice Schools around the world to enable them to participate in the campaign.
Our hope is that schools who supported the campaign in the past will do so again with a new group of students and that they will be joined by many more of the estimated quarter of a million students in Edmund Rice schools around the world.
Teachers need to be informed that lesson plans etc are included in the "Prescription for Life" file which can be downloaded from the Caritas website at http://www.caritas.org/activities/hiv_aids/the_campaign.html
Click here for JPIC Website with links to school ministries in the Americas