Shari is ready to re-connect
CONNECTING with the children of Normanton has been a game changer for Riverside Christian College student Shari Thompson.
School chaplain Ross Harrold who made trips to the small cattle town in the Shire of Carpentaria 15 years ago, started taking the Year 10, 11 and 12 students during the June July holidays.
This will be Shari's third year.
"The experience is just unbelievable and I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't go when I had the opportunity," she said.
"Really connecting with the kids is the most important thing."
She said it was shocking the first year she went.
"Honestly it is quite confronting going up there but to be able to go back and have them recognise you is unbeatable.
"You can't believe unconditional love - that you feel for these kids and they feel for you."
Shari hopes to study health sciences next year which has been influenced by her Normanton experience.
"I want to go into international disease prevention so I will be working in remote communities with kids who are disadvantaged - I do think that is a connection."
Chaplain Ross said they were trying to establish a great culture within the school by recognising the strong indigenous heritage in the community.
He lived in Normanton for three-and-a-half years and said because you are so far away it often feels like you are there on your own.
"Even in a community like that people can still feel so separated from the rest of Queensland that no one else cares about them," he said.
During floods they are completely cut off and have had food and supplies flown in.
"This past year there has been massive floods which affected all their cattle.
"This is their livelihood - the community revolves around breeding cattle - if that industry is damaged the whole community suffers."
He said they were away 11 days, four of them travelling to the shire where they just spent time and hung out with the community.
They also pack gifts for the children including sporting gear and hygiene products for the women.
The chaplain said the community was surprised by our visits and each year they remember names.
"They are not used to people giving up so much just to be with them.
"We walk in the sports centre and kids call out to team members who were there last year - it leaves a big impact."
Principal David Jeffs said even though the trip was confronting on all levels it was equally exciting how the Normanton community was engaging.
"The reception we receive is so warm and embracing," Mr Jeffs said.
"We see individual growth in children - quite often they come back completely changed.
"This gives our students an opportunity to get outside their own world and see something bigger than what potentially they may not under normal circumstances have the opportunity to see and experience."
He said education was a team sport with opportunities created by the whole school community from teachers and administration to students and the community.
Chaplain Ross said it was a experience to learn about culture and history.
The community's elders gather around school's camp fire talking about their tragic history, growing up and how different it is now.
"They hear this gentle beautiful story of what has happened in the past - yet how there is a sense of that was in the past and today is a different day.
"We are just one people coming together enjoying each others company.
"The elders are pretty happy with us coming up and investing with their kids - they appreciate us listening to their stories."
Once the school arrives they set about making an obstacle course and organise to spend time with children aged from two years to 16 and 17.
"This is something they don't normally do - we play footy and chat to them," Shari said.
"They love the team spirit and competitiveness."
The first year she visited she was told what they did was unbelievable.
"Never ever would the little kids be playing with the big kids or the big kids talking to the little ones or allowing them to play together - they only time they get together is when we are there."
Shari has children who come from their stations especially to see her.
"It is the best thing - I cried last time - they are just so thrilled which is amazing.
"The whole time they say I can't believe you come back.
"Saying goodbye at the end is really tough."
This will be Shari's last year but she's hoping she might be able to sway her sister who will visit for the first time next year.