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Advocating for the voiceless

Joining forces: At the launch of "ERA (Edmund Rice Advocacy) for Change" are (from left) Christian Brother Damien Price, Phil Glendenning and Matthew Hawkins


Advocating for the voiceless

A NEW student advocacy network aimed at engaging young people to help amplify the voices of the silent has been launched for Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) students.

Edmund Rice Advocacy for Change is the brainchild of two EREA staff Matthew Hawkins, who is assistant principal for identity at St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe, and Mark Ellison, who is justice and peace director St Joseph’s Nudgee College.

Students from across Edmund Rice schools have also had a hand in the idea that saw representatives from all Brisbane EREA education institutions come together to advocate for change on March 1.

Students from St Mary’s College, Toowoomba, and St Columban’s College, Caboolture, also attended the official launch, and representatives from Ignatius Park College, Townsville, and Edmund Rice College, West Wollongong, participated via Skype.

Mr Hawkins said the voiceless of the world included groups such as refugees and asylum seekers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, victims of human trafficking and those suffering the effects of climate change.

Students were able to participate in workshops that included a first-hand account from a recently arrived Iranian refugee “boatperson” to information on Brisbane’s homeless and slavery in Australia today.

Barrister and documentary maker Jessie Taylor, (walk a mile in my shoes), musicians Jesse Hooper (Killing Heidi) and Travis Demsey (The Living End) also led workshops on inspiring change.

Mr Hawkins said it was hoped to harness the numbers and the potential of students across Edmund Rice schools in Queensland in a common cause.

He said while the Christian Brothers had a long tradition of service and social justice, ERA for Change went a step further.

“A move towards advocacy makes us think more deeply about the issue and act on that bigger issue,” he said.

“We want to make sure our message which is ‘about and for other people’ is heard by multiple people.”

Students attending the launch were energised and enthusiastic about putting the information and tools they’d learned into practice.

Sixteen-year-old Elli Lazarus, from the Albert Park Flexible Learning Centre, Brisbane, said she would like to visit a refugee detention centre – “… to talk to them about their home country and how they are doing with the pain of their detention.”

Year 11 student at St James College, Spring Hill, Saranda Biba planned to do more at a local level.

“I just want to help people as much as I can and to attend our brekkie van a lot more than I do to help the homeless,” she said.

James Brannigan, a 14-year-old Year 10 student from St Joseph’s College Gregory Terrace, will put pen to paper.
“It’s definitely moved me to action especially about writing to politicians,” he said.

“I feel I’ll take a lot away from today that I’ll turn into actions.”

For Year 11 student at St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe, Matthew Travers, the day was all about enlisting support for the cause.

“I got a lot from the day about the running and the basic mechanics of advocacy groups and how to make them more efficient and how to make them work,” he said.


Written by: Robin Williams

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