This week I would like to highlight two blessings our school has enjoyed over the past week. Blessings such as these do not fit within the measurable frameworks that are often used to compare schools. However, these events are what contributes to make schools alive and meaningful as communities who have generational impact.
Last Saturday, our Creative and Performing Arts team hosted a Little Night Music. I have had the pleasure of attending these evenings for years, both as a past parent, and as staff. This event has steadily grown and since a short break a couple years ago, it has absolutely blossomed. We had over 200 adults attend, plus students – both as performers and in the audience. It was the debut for several ensembles – The Singlets, the Primary Guitar Ensemble, and the Jazz Ensemble, as well as the very welcome sound of the Primary Vocal Ensemble. There were soloists representing students in Years 1-12. I love how evenings such as this provide the opportunity for students to be brave and build confidence along with musical skill. Over the years I have seen Primary students grow in their skill and passion, who now have active careers in music. I am so thankful for the work of our CAPA staff in fostering the love of music, and all its benefits, in our students. It was a very exciting night celebrating music and musicians within the school community and I am looking forward to next year’s performances already.
Our second blessing was the visit of Tony Rinaudo (AM) to speak to our Year 7-12 students on his journey of faith and perseverance, using his gifts to make real beneficial change in the lives of millions of people who rely on the health of the land on which they live and farm. Through his work, Tony was awarded the 2018 Right Livelihood Award (The Alternate Nobel Prize). He is also member of the Order of Australia 2019 (for significant service to conservation as a pioneer in international reforestation programs). A documentary about his work and life is available through SBS On Demand.
Tony started as a missionary in Niger, Africa where he realised baren land could be regenerated from the roots of trees that had previously been cut down to ground level. Using the simple yet effective strategy of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) some of the world’s most vulnerable people are benefiting from greater food security, economic health, and community hope for their children. After a slow start, by 2018 six million hectares of land had been regenerated by 240 million trees using FMNR, all without planting one tree. Known as the ‘Forest Maker’, Tony is now the Principal Climate Action Advisor with World Vision Australia. He works internationally, speaking to groups of politicians and leaders (and students!) across all continents, with the goal of regenerating one billion hectares of land to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, prevent species loss and end extreme poverty for millions of people.
In his first years in Niger, Tony ran a tree planting program which was failing. However, after several frustrating years he had an epiphany. One day when stopping to adjust tyre pressure on a desolate road, he said a prayer and soon after, noticed “a useless looking bush” nearby. He walked over to take a closer look.
“In that instant, everything changed,” he says. “I realised, no, it’s not a bush, it’s not an agricultural weed – it’s a tree, and it’s been cut down.”
Farmers typically slashed the small shoots that grew from tree stumps, but Tony realised in that moment these “suckers” offered the answer he was looking for.
“Everything that we needed was literally at our feet,” he says. “I realised then I didn’t need to plant trees, we weren’t fighting the Sahara Desert, I didn’t need a multi-million budget – we just needed to work with nature instead of fighting it and destroying it.”
Initially the concept of FMNR faced a lot of opposition from farmers as it was a change in their traditional understanding and practices regarding trees. Interestingly, further opposition came from those who doubted this strategy because it did not seem technical or expensive enough (like many other failed strategies like tree planting programs). However, circumstances and persistence mean that the benefits of this ‘embarrassingly simple’ strategy are obvious.
This was a very special opportunity for our students to hear from someone who is having such a positive impact for so many people and understand what motivates him to persevere despite times of failure and setback. He shared that as a child he felt angry about environmental destruction, injustice and poverty. He felt powerless in the face of the indifference of many adults. As a young person, Tony prayed a simple prayer, “Father God, please use me somehow, somewhere, to make a difference.” God has answered his prayer.
While Tony was passionate about the value of this work and an inspiring speaker, he also is extremely humble. He acknowledges that he is a very ordinary person, and it is God, who works through him to achieve great and positive change for millions. This is a valuable message for our students to hear. God works through ordinary people, and even though they may feel powerless, they can have a huge positive impact on the world. This is such an encouraging message.
These two events from the past week have been a great encouragement to our students and I am thankful for the people who have worked to make them possible. These events are an important part of our school’s life because they speak of inspiration and anticipation of the positive impact our students can have in the future.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Mr Keith McMullen