On February 12, 2018, Tonga was struck by Cyclone Gita, a category 4 cyclone with sustained winds of 230km/h. The cyclone devastated the Tongan islands, damaging
over 1,100 homes and causing upwards of $170 million dollars of damage.
Villa Maria College’s sister school, Takuilau College was extensively damaged by Cyclone Gita. The cyclone tore the roof off the main buildings and destroyed the
school’s computer labs. Since the cyclone, the students are being educated in tents and the college’s hall while the school is in the process of repairing the damage.
This prompted both Villa Maria College and St Thomas of Canterbury College to combine and run a Justice and Mercy Fundraising Dinner to help out not only Takuilau
College, but also the Pacific Community who also suffered extensive damage during Cyclone Gita.
The Justice and Mercy Dinner was on Wednesday, August 1st at the Hornby Working Men’s Club. It was organised by Thomas Newton (Director of Religious Studies at Villa
Maria) and Stephen Kennedy (Social Justice Lead Teacher at Saint Thomas of Canterbury College).
The primary keynote was Phil Glendenning of the Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney, Australia. With a background in education, law, political science, and overseas aid
and development. Today he is primarily involved in human right advocacy and education, peace and reconciliation work and raising awareness of the impact of
climate change on marginalised peoples. In his work for the rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, Phil led the Edmund Rice Centre’s research team for the Deported to
Danger series which monitored the safety of rejected asylum seekers in 22 countries, and resulted in an internationally screened documentary, “A Well Founded Fear”, in
2008. He was a consultant on the 2012 TV series “Go Back to Where You Came From”. Phil encouraged us to be neighbours who could act as a conscientised voice for
the Australian Government. He explained the human rights concerns for those first in Australia (the indigenous people) and those who have most recently arrived in
Australia (the asylum seeking refugees known as ‘boat people’).
The supporting keynote speaker was Chris Harris of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand (HCNZ). Chris joined the HCNZ Board in August 2015 and is currently the
National Director of Education. During his career, Chris has worked with people with disabilities and at-risk youth in various capacities. He believes strongly in the legacy
of educating students in Holocaust, genocide and human rights and travels extensively both within New Zealand and Internationally contributing to global discussions on
social justice and education around historical genocides. He did not speak of statistics and graphs. The Holocaust, in his opinion, is best understood through individual
stories of people who were brave and hopeful.
The student performances featured Villa Maria’s Vivace choir who performed Kaval Sviri (a traditional Bulgarian folk song arranged by Peter Liondev) and the St
Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School Tongan Culture group.
Thanks to the sponsors of the evening, the guest speakers, the student leaders and performers, the College Principals (Deborah Brosnahan and Steve Hart) and the
guests who attended.
Stephen Kennedy – email@example.com
Thomas Newton – firstname.lastname@example.org