Disadvantaged young people surprised by joy

NEWS | Anne Lim
Monday 17 August 2015

Three teenage boys in foster or residential care made a remarkable discovery during a mission trip in July to Vanuatu with a team from Fresh Hope Church of Christ, Armidale in northern NSW.

The boys, aged 15, 16 and 17, were surprised by how joyful and at peace the local Ni-Vanuatu people were despite living without amenities such as electricity and technology that we take for granted in the West.

“That was probably the biggest life lesson that these boys expressed, says Linda Agnew, team leader of mission trips to Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, for the past six years.

“They’re like all teenagers – technology is core to their life and there was little technology.

The Team from the Fresh Hope Church of Christ, Armidale

The Team from the Fresh Hope Church of Christ, Armidale

“It’s very remote and there was no permanent electricity – we had a generator for a couple of hours each night – and the kids at school don’t use many devices.”

Linda, a senior science lecturer at the University of New England, was impressed by how the boys applied themselves to the central project, rebuilding a workshop at Ranwadi Churches of Christ College, a co-ed boarding school for about 300 students.

“I was so impressed with their work ethic,” she says.

“They had two weeks on a building site and they discovered they really like this and are good at this.”

Pathfinders, a youth and welfare charity in the north of NSW, joined the church mission to Pentecost for the first time last year, sending two boys and one carer from its Pathways Out of Home Care (OOHC) programme. One of the boys went again this year, along with two other boys and two adult staff members. All three boys have expressed interest in going again.

“They coped remarkably well, these young people who come from quite difficult backgrounds,” says Linda.

“Life has been incredibly tough for them, so of course they come with some wounds.”

Linda believes that one of the things the boys enjoyed most was being included as full members of a team.

“Part of what we do is we have a family environment, where everyone is valued, so I think for the boys the experience of being team members is as valuable for them as going to the foreign country and helping and being involved in a humanitarian project.”

During their downtime, the young people learned about another culture and learned to snorkel and take photographs. They also went to church, some for the first time.

“The beautiful harmonies in the singing really impressed them, and church is such an integral part of life there, so they loved doing church,” says Linda.

They also fully embraced the nightly “highlights and challenges” sessions after dinner where everyone around the table had a chance to express what happened during their day.

“The boys were very thoughtful in their responses to that,” she says.

Some of the boys had never been on a plane before, so had to learn how to apply for a passport, get vaccinations and plan what to pack in the preparation phase.

“Then meeting strangers and travelling internationally in a group, going through customs and immigration, are all part of building life experience, so next time it’s not so daunting because they’ve got that skill,” says Linda.

“Lots of kids in their situation would never dream of being able to go overseas; this gives them hope that they can aspire to something more, they can travel, they can help other people.”

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