‘Never give up’: DARA’s Community Day at St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” – these are the words echoing in the minds of students and teachers who had the pleasure of witnessing John Sandy’s presentation at St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen at their recent Community Day.

The focus of the Community Day was on raising funds and awareness for two local charities, one of which was DARA [Development And Relief Agency]. DARA is a registered charity and agency of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle that supports and empowers vulnerable people in our local communities through its food and settlement support programs.

John Sandy, the Project Liaison Officer for DARA’s Refugee Hub [settlement support programs], attended the Community Day to share his emotional story of coming to Australia as a refugee from his native war-torn country of Sierra Leone in the 1990’s.

“Today is about connecting DARA with the community, the local schools and the parishes to make sure we have an understanding about the issues of refugees in Newcastle and the issues of refugees that DARA is supporting,” John said.

“[It’s about] building those connections so that we, as a community, can work together to support refugees settling in Newcastle.”

Amongst those who witnessed John’s presentation were Joel Bristow and Veronica Rolfe, the two Vice Principals of St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen.

“It’s a chance for us, as a school, to come together as a community and celebrate each other’s company and have something a little bit different than a normal school day to build community amongst the students and teachers,” Mr Bristow said of the Community Day.

Samantha Bell, a member of the school’s Student Representative Council, played a major role in planning and executing the event after witnessing John’s story for the first time several years ago. 

“Sam came to us when we were having our SRC meeting,” Veronica said. “She had kept in contact with John Sandy and she wanted to pick up where we left off 5 years ago and wanted to continue the support of [DARA’s Refugee Hub] and so the school got behind her.”

“We, as a year group, had quite a strong drive to do something and help out the community in some way,” Sam said.

“Hearing [John’s] story for the first time was a very moving experience. Hearing how much he has accomplished since coming to Australia after going through something like that, it was quite an amazing experience. 

The experience moved Sam so much that she decided to write a song about John’s story called, ‘Their Love Grows’, which attracted quite a lot of attention throughout the local community for its heart-warming music and lyrics.

Michael Eccleston, an ex-teacher of St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen and the person responsible for initially connecting the school and Sam with DARA, had nothing but praise for the student’s generosity on the day.

“These are the most giving students that you will come across,” he said.

“They do community better than anyone and that’s pretty much what these community days are all about; going out and doing a little bit extra for others.”

Below is an excerpt from John’s emotional and inspiring presentation:

You are not going to succeed at everything you do the first time you try. 

Some of the most successful people in the world are those who have not given up. J. K. Rowling, the woman who wrote ‘Harry Potter’, had to be rejected 12 times before her book was finally published. She did not give up. Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, went on to become the President of South Africa. He did not give up.

Even when you are discouraged, even when you are going through challenges in your life, even when you feel like people have given up on you, don’t give up on yourself. Be strong, appreciate your teachers, and appreciate your families. You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

If you’re part of a community or group and can think of a unique way of supporting the work of DARA’s Refugee Hub, contact John Sandy on (02) 4979 1376 or via email at refugeehub@dara.org.au 

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Alexander Foster Image
Alexander Foster

Alexander Foster is the Digital Communications Officer in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle