Dear Brussels: Letters from Down Under

In the digital age, letter writing could easily be seen as somewhat passé. Surely Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and even ordinary old email are so much quicker and easier? Some students of St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton, might disagree.

On the morning that news of the terrorist attacks in Brussels broke, following similar events in Paris, a Year 8 class gathered for its weekly pastoral time. Like her students, teacher Rebecca Dawber had seen television footage of the aftermath of the attacks and was distressed for the residents of the city, despite its being so far away.

Rebecca recalls, “Students were asking questions and expressing their concern over the attacks. We decided as a class to find a school in Brussels to send letters of our thoughts, prayers and best wishes.”

Some student research followed – admittedly, courtesy of the internet! St Catherine’s Catholic College is unique among diocesan schools in being a K-12 school on one campus. The students located a Kindergarten to Year 12 Jesuit school, Sint-Jan Berchmanscollege, and sent a parcel of handwritten letters.

In due course a parcel arrived from the Brussels school and the two groups of students began to make connections as individuals. Photos helped to put faces to names. The Belgian principal, Eddy Van de Velde, wrote to Rebecca, “Receiving your pupils’ letters made us very happy. It’s nice to find out that people on the other side of the world are concerned with us.” 

The next stage of this developing international relationship involves the Belgian students learning more about Australia, and especially Singleton. While the concerns about security remain, the tone of the students’ letters is uniformly optimistic. One group wrote, “We are all trying not to be scared. It’s also easier ‘cause we’re young and innocent and so we have a different perspective on what’s happening in Belgium. But hey, let’s all keep dancing on rainbows, swimming with mermaids and flying with unicorns!”  

The St Catherine’s students have been preparing to send to their counterparts all sorts of goodies, from Vegemite to coal, flag stickers to Tim Tams and Australian-themed pencils, toys and books. Tema Whatham has explained the importance of Fantales and Kirby Egan provided some background on the Australian flag. When the parcel arrives it will open a window on life down under and will be sure to promote further conversation.

Student Lewis Hamilton reflected on the experience of ‘Letters to Brussels’: “This exercise has helped me realise that we are not alone in the world and we are not the only people who struggle to cope with the happenings in this world we call home, and that we should help whomever we can.”

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Tracey Edstein Image
Tracey Edstein

Tracey Edstein is the editor of Aurora Magazine, the official magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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