ONE of Brisbane’s oldest schools has for the first time named two African refugees as college captains, identifying the pair as leaders strongly committed to their faith and to Catholic social justice.
The new captains at Brisbane’s inner-city St James College are Mariam Ajang, born in a refugee camp in Kenya after her family fled war-torn Sudan, and Paul Paul, who was born in Sudan and fled to Australia with his mother and three siblings when he was five.
“I feel privileged and grateful for the school community trusting in me, and so I can lead them into being a more inclusive community”, an emotional Mr Paul said after receiving his captain’s badge at the school’s 2019 inaugural Mass on February 8.
“We had to escape war to come to a better country … and here I am today.
“I am a dedicated Catholic. I put God first, then my family and then school next.”
Mr Paul has his sights set on studying medicine and to return to South Sudan to help rebuild his homeland.
“I want to use my opportunity of coming here to go back and help them, so they can have the opportunity as well,” he said.
Mariam Ajang has attended St James since Year 8 and said she had always strived to become the first African female school captain.
“It’s weird. When I first started at the school that was my goal to set it up and be an example for the African girls,” she said.
“African women can rise and be school captain like me.”
Ms Ajang said starting life in a refugee camp meant she didn’t really know her own country or place of birth, and the experience had mainly caused trauma to her mum.
“Talking to my mum about it is still hard – it feels like ripping off a band-aid,” she said.
“When I finish school I want to be a paramedic, because I enjoy helping people and I enjoy science.
“I was raised a Catholic and the Bible has always been my reference.”
Speaking at St James College’s inaugural Mass for 2019 at St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill, new principal Ann Rebgetz said the school could legitimately claim to be a global leader in diversity, with students from many cultural backgrounds.
“We are daring global leaders, we are dynamic global leaders, we dream of hope and faith that we are driven by our purpose and mission … and we see that education brings freedom,” she said.
Mrs Rebgetz wrote in the school’s back-to-school newsletter about St James College’s rich history dating back more than 150 years as a Christian Brothers college, its governance by Edmund Rice Education Australia, and the school’s ongoing commitment to assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
“To date I have interviewed 50 students with a mixture of international students from China, Korea and Vietnam, refugees on resettlement program from Africa and Middle Eastern countries, and asylum-seeking students who have come from Nauru,” she wrote.
“Our refugees and asylum seekers have had sad experiences, which I have found very moving, but hopefully St James can provide a safe, happy, inviting learning space as they are very keen students.
“As a diverse community with students from numerous cultural backgrounds who have high hopes for the future, we ‘live and breathe’ cultural understanding, and through daily interactions we develop tolerance, capacity, team readiness and mutual obligation.
“The college has a special uniqueness about its context which inspires commitment from staff, families, students and community.”