YOUNG leaders from across Australia and India will converge on Armidale next month for the 2012 Junior Round Square Conference being organised by The Armidale School and New England Girls’ School. Heather Fisher, NEGS Round Square co-ordinator, talks about the exciting program.
First of all Heather, what is the Round Square organisation?
Round Square is a global organisation of around 100 schools, including TAS and NEGS, that share a philosophy summed up with the acronym IDEALS – Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Education and Service. The organisation’s founder, Kurt Hahn, who also started Outward Bound and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, believed in an education regime based on personal responsibility, kindness and justice, particularly through community service and outdoor adventure.
Member schools are involved in service projects in developing countries, such as Thailand, where NEGS and TAS students have been helping build a community centre on Phi Phi Island, where the local sea gypsy community is being dispossessed of their land and livelihoods by neighbouring luxury resorts.
Tell us how TAS and NEGS got the chance to host this year’s Australasian Junior Round Square Conference …
We belong to the Australian and East Asia Region, and each year a member school hosts the regional conferences. One school hosts the senior regional conference for Years 9-11 and another hosts the junior regional conference for Years 6-8. We took responsibility for the junior conference for 2012.
What’s the theme of this year’s conference, and why was that chosen?
Overall, the theme is environmental concern, with a special emphasis on the importance of clean water – the title of the conference is ‘Out of the Blue’. As the program states, water is not only a resource, but a life source as well. We all share the responsibility to ensure a healthy, secure and sustainable water supply for our communities, environment and economy. Our quality of life depends on it. It won’t be long before a barrel of clean water is worth more than a barrel of oil. Yet, we use it extravagantly, with little thought to the economical and ecological costs of this behaviour.
Collaboratively, a team of teachers from TAS and NEGS have developed an exciting and energetic program, but it should be emphasised that digital presentations, videoing activities, leading discussion groups, conducting the opening and closing ceremonies will all be student conducted. Both schools are involved in leadership training for the Year 9-12 leaders.
We understand you have two outstanding speakers as special guests?
We are very pleased to be hosting Sharon Crean and Dr Ian Kiernan. Sharon is the energy behind the not-for-profit organisation Beyond Water, which was established to alleviate poverty through the provision of clean and safe drinking water. Her work is mostly based in Africa, where she sees clean water as merely the beginning of the process, and education, vocational training, sanitation and health as Beyond Water’s ongoing commitment to the cause.
Current BeyondWater fundraising projects are Mwangu Ivuti Primary School, Mutomo District East Kenya; Kobujoi Hospital, Western Kenya; Busabla Nursing Home, Uganda; The School of St Jude, Tanzania; First Fruit Primary School and Village for Hope, Rwanda.
Ian Kiernan is well known for founding Clean Up Australia, which grew into Clean Up the World – a campaign that now involves more than 35 million people from 120 countries every year.
Ian has demonstrated that a simple idea has universal appeal and the health of the environment is of concern to people and communities worldwide. It also shows what can be achieved and that individuals should never be afraid to ‘dream big’. He will be interacting with students as they ‘Clean Up Armidale’ along the Creeklands.
Both these guests are so interested in the program that they are not only guest speakers, but are staying for several days to participate in the activities.
Ian Kiernan has a strong connection to Armidale, doesn’t he?
Ian Kiernan is a TAS Old Boy who values that relationship and regularly participates in TAS events.
How many students do you expect to be attending and where will they come from?
There will be 90 students plus teachers attending. The maximum number from any Round Square school is six, so this indicates the range of schools involved. The students for this conference are from Australian Round Square schools in every state and from India.
What activities will they be involved in, and how are they organised?
The program involves an exploration of water, calculating its related personal energy usage in Third World countries (with activities such as walking to fresh water, carrying, fire-making for boiling etc), making mudbricks, hand-grinding grain, riverbank replanting, Snowgum regeneration, creekland cleanup, gaining an understanding of water treatment for safe usage and bush hiking with observation activities.
Students will be organised into 12 groups called Barazzas. Every Barazza will have students of mixed ages as well as teachers, but are managed by the senior student leaders. These leaders will organise the sessions and activities, such as treeplanting and cleanup.
Socially, the students will get lots of opportunities to get to know each other, will experience a ‘Third World meal’ to better understand disadvantage in society and have fun at a bush dance social.
What do you hope they will get out of it?
Apart from the hands-on activities, the students will have presentations from Sharon Crean, Ian Kiernan and representatives from the organisation ‘Jump’.
The latter is an international organisation based in Beijing, which runs innovative, engaging and motivational programs to foster youth leadership and involvement in community development projects.
The students at this conference will be challenged to make the world a better place in even small ways: one person can make a difference!