Coming to terms with compassion

The annual writing competition held under the auspices of the Catholic Schools Office Teaching and Learning Services this year invoked Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy in its invitation to students.

Coming to terms with compassion

The unifying theme was ‘compassion’, perhaps more accessible to students than ‘mercy’, and a series of images – including a fetching shot of Pope Francis surrounded by children – served as stimulus material.

A variety of approaches demonstrated the students’ ability to grapple with abstract ideas and consider concepts that might be thought to have been beyond their years. Bullying, the impact of natural disaster and the loneliness of some elderly people all emerged in the students’ submissions.

Judges Roger Brock, former editor of The Newcastle Herald and Tracey Edstein, editor of the diocesan magazine Aurora, selected the following winners:

Stage 2 Laura Seston of Holy Family Primary, Merewether Beach
Stage 3 Kalani Bates of St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton
Stage 4 Dominic O’Brien of St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton
Stage 5 Chloe Eather of St Mary’s High School, Gateshead.

Head of Teaching and Learning Services, Catholic Schools Office, Kathryn Fox, presented the winners with a cheque for $100 and their schools each received $250.

Roger Brock said, “The competition challenged students to explore compassion − what it means to them and how it is (or can be) expressed and experienced in everyday life. The task also required authors to demonstrate proficiency in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

“While standards varied in relation to the latter, the finalists excelled in their imaginative approach to the subject matter. Writing about a subject chosen by others can be difficult, but each finalist embraced the challenge and engaged readers in the story.

“Most chose to use a first-person narrative style (writing as "I") and did this well. It might be interesting to give the third-person ("They were warned about the cyclone three days before...", "A shiver travelled down his spine...") a go, to see how it enables a writer to tell a story from the perspective of several characters. Experimenting with writing styles can be fun and can help authors discover which form suits them best.”

Tracey Edstein said that all participants should be commended for tackling a challenging topic and one that highlighted what the world sorely needs. 

The winning stories appear below.

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Compassion
Chloe Eather, St Mary's High School, Gateshead

Bang! A shiver travelled down my spine as the luggage in the back of the 4WD banged against the side walls of the boot. I had been on edge since boarding the 747 flight from Sydney. My body jerked painfully as the soldier navigated the rocky, dirt road leading to the town of Kobani. Even with two armed military soldiers accompanying myself and two other young nurses, I did not feel safe.

Silence filled the lengthy trip. The soldiers were on standby and we held on nervously − contemplating our decision to travel to a country in crisis. I peered out of the dusty window to see the harsh desert of the Syrian terrain that stretched for miles. I clutched my access pass in my hand. It read ‘Cara Sway: volunteer nurse: unrestricted access to medical facilities’. I knew why I had made the decision to travel to Syria, and I was adamant that I could make a difference − but a small voice inside my head kept reminding me of the danger I was putting myself in. Did I really know what lay ahead?

We soon approached the outskirts of Kobani. I anxiously examined my surroundings. It was hard to see through the dusty path ahead, and I squinted, looking for buildings, vehicles or even people. To my horror, the town of Kobani was not a town at all. It was a pile of rubble and decrepit buildings. Lifeless bodies covered in horrendous wounds lined the streets. I did not expect to see such desolation. I was not prepared for the extent of the depressing situation before me. I volunteered for the nursing job as I wanted to help the innocent families trapped in a world of fear. I was truly naïve in my expectations of the situation.

The car came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the ‘town’. We were sternly instructed to stay inside the vehicle while the soldiers searched the immediate area. After we got the all clear, the other two nurses and I reluctantly hopped out of the vehicle. The heat and humidity were stifling.

The head soldier spoke forcefully. “Nurses, your instructions are to locate any survivors and provide them with sufficient medical treatment to enable them to be transported across the border. We will bring the medical supplies to you. Go!”

I walked quickly towards a small mud hut. I was frightened. Frightened of what may be inside that building. Frightened of what might happen to me. But the adrenalin was pumping and I kept walking. I pushed the wooden door open cautiously and stepped inside.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” I called out searchingly. Silence. As I retreated from the hut I was startled by a sudden crashing sound. A shattered dinner plate had scattered across the floor.  Heart pounding, I stepped slowly towards the mess. As I moved closer I spotted a small fist protruded from behind a dusty ornamental pot. It was the hand of a child.

“It’s okay. I am here to help.” I reassured the child. His small innocent face told a tale of despair as he emerged from the shadows. His malnourished body was shaking, he was covered in dirt and his clothes had been torn to shreds. The deep cut on his upper right arm looked infected − I knew the boy would not survive for long without proper treatment. Trembling in fear the little boy stood up and reached for my hand.

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What love and compassion can do
Kalani Bates, St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton

I stumble home, thirstier than ever. I reach for the closest tap and start pumping. No water. I reach for the next tap, victory! I drink one small cup only for I know, if I drink too much, we will all die of thirst. What’s even scarier is, we have been told that it’s coming soon.

My name is Elizabeth Paul. I am 11 years old. We live in the dry, barren country where the days are 45 degrees and over and the nights -10 degrees. I live in a town called Santrum, with the population of around 850-900 people. We live in crammed-up tents and the rich, in small wooden huts. There is one grocery shop, one two-storey school and one almost dried up lake where everyone shares the water. There is no true leader, but everyone works together to stay alive. The fathers have to go to the next town two miles away every day to earn money to feed their families. Life is very hard here, but somehow God blesses us and we survive.

At school, kind, loving teachers from amazing Australa (or however you spell it) come and teach us Maths and English. They tell us they come from a group called “Compassion” and come make our lives a whole lot better. I do not speak much in class for I have terrible English but if I did, I’d completely agree with them.

I walk into the small school yard and sit down at my usual bench. For some reason, I start thinking about reality, and if I will die sad. I feel hot tears at the back of my eyes and suddenly, they all flow out like a monstrous waterfall. My friends Sam and Lilly come and sit next to me and whisper kind, comforting words into my ears. The teacher saw us and beckoned me over.

She took me into her room, knelt down and held my hands ever so softly. “You need to tell me what’s wrong Lizzy.” She said calmly. I wiped away my tears and told her all about what has been happening in my life really fast. She closed her eyes and started thinking. “I wasn’t meant to tell you this because it was meant to be a surprise.” She carried on. “But because you’re a dedicated hard working student, I will. There are some people from Australia coming over who are going to help build better homes, give you more money, give you a better education, sponsor you and give you truckloads of food and water.” I threw my arms around her and thanked her like never before.

In the next couple of long days, I started to realise that when I use my voice, I am heard. When the group of people came, they were like angels; merciful like the Lord. I finally got up the courage to ask them the thing I have wanted to say for years, please help.

After that, life was amazing. Whenever I turned on a tap crystal clear water came out. If I went to the wooden cupboard there was delicious food. Whenever I went to my mini closest, there were new beautiful clothes. Life was finally perfect, and I knew in years to come, when I die, I will die completely happy and know my life was complete, because of love, kindness and compassion.

20 YEARS LATER

I had just finished making my usual lunch when the timer went off. Time to head off. I kissed my handsome husband, Sam, goodbye and hustled 4 little rascals Lucy, James, Tyler and Eve into the busy school yard to start work. I walked into the very same small classroom I’d gone to school in and remembered, just a couple of kind, hardworking and determined people and how they turned all our miserable lives up-side-down and gave us hope.    

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Together
By Dominic O’Brien, St Catherine’s Catholic College, Singleton

I could feel the wind rushing over my coat, the cold rain dribbling down my sides and pelting my back. I knew no one would ever love me, yet I still tried. I ran about the streets hoping to find someone that would love me.

I barked and approached everybody that I saw, but hardly anyone would take notice of me. The few people that did, would walk away disgusted. I walked up to a man in a suit and he kicked my side and walked up to a woman who was waiting for him. I sat and cried.

Later that day, a little boy walked up to me and started patting my head. His mother then walked up and grabbed her son and ran away. She looked back at me like I was some kind of monster. I thought that maybe I’m not the beautiful dog I once was. Maybe I am that foul beast that the women thought I was, maybe I am a monster. The streets have changed me!

I wandered the streets for days and no one would even take notice of me. I needed food but no one would give me anything. I had to scavenge for food and water. I don’t know if I will ever find someone that will love me.

A time came when I thought that I was done for, when I thought there was no more point to living. But I carried on. I needed to if I wanted my happily ever after.

I kept searching, searching for someone to love me. And on a day, where I felt the lowest I had ever felt before, my life was completely changed.

I was searching for food when a man in dirty brown clothes, with a beard that went down to his stomach and a little cap to protect his ears from the cold called me over. All he said was “Here boy.” I knew my life would be better from then on.

His name is Henry and he is just like me. Alone. Now we are together and go everywhere together. He calls me his best mate. I don’t really know what it means but I do know it’s a good thing. We go to a place where he gets a thing called soup, he calls it the soup kitchen. The people that work there are very nice and always make sure I get enough food as well.

I know I don’t live the greatest life, but I reckon I live the happiest.

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Making a Difference
By Laura Seston, Holy Family School, Merewether Beach

Each day I played with my friends in the playground at school. It wasn’t a very big playground and after a while, I noticed this little girl sitting by herself each day.

So I decided that I must invite her to play. But the next day, when I went to the place where she usually sat on the rocks, she wasn’t there.

A few days later, I saw her near the chicken coup. She was feeding the school chickens and she was talking to them and calling them by name, “Honey and Amber....”  

I walked up quietly and stood near her as she talked softly to the chickens. I asked her how she knew their names but she just ran off and headed for the rocks again on the top playground. This was very strange, I thought to myself. She can talk to the chickens but not to me. I was just about to go back to my other friends, when something in my heart told me to pursue her.

I quickly ran over and joined her on the rocks. The rocks were huge and big enough for both of us to sit comfortably on them. She told me her name was Zoe. I asked her again if she would like to play. But she turned away from me and muttered, “I don’t know.”

I noticed that she looked quite scared. So I said gently, “Take a deep breath in and out three times – slowly.” She looked a little better and turned to me then and told me that she was frightened of making friends. She went on to say that she had been treated very badly by her friends at her old school and had felt very lonely there. She had convinced herself that it was easier to play alone rather than become close to others and then be ridiculed and hurt. I held her hand and assured her that everybody was not like that. I led her slowly towards my other friends. I felt her grip tighten as we drew closer to them.

‘Tyla, Khianna, Carrie meet Zoe. She is new to our school.” I said cheerfully. We spent the rest of that lunch time playing together. It appeared that Zoe had overcome her fear of making friends! Over time, Zoe became a valued member of our friendship group.

That was many years ago. Zoe and I are still good friends today. I often think about that time I decided to sit with her. A simple act of kindness made such a difference to someone’s happiness. I will carry that thought with me always.

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The Aurora article Coming to terms with compassion first appeared on mnnews.today, your local source of Catholic news for Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley. Follow mnnews.today on Twitter and Instagram.

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