For the past 10 years I have joined Year 11 students from Loreto Mandeville Hall Toorak on pilgrimage to Vietnam. This Pilgrimage is a significant rite of passage for girls who are about to embark on their final year of schooling and who are coming to a greater understanding of what it truly means to be a Loreto girl.
Being a Loreto girl means having a sense of justice, verity, freedom, sincerity and felicity within. Being a Loreto girl means ‘engaging with the bigger picture’, looking up and out into the world- just as women like Mary Ward, Gonzaga Barry and Trish Franklin did. Being a Loreto girl means seeking ways to find goodness in all things and examining our daily lives for the light and shadow, both of which offer glimpses of God. The Vietnam Pilgrimage is a way of being and doing all of these things; through taking a journey to a new place, a sacred part of the story for Loreto in our corner of the world, while experiencing an inner journey through reflection, discussion, prayer and friendship.
This pilgrimage for both students and staff is taken in companionship with our fellow Mary Ward people at Loreto Vietnam. Founded by Trish Franklin ibvm in 1997, Loreto Vietnam is now run by Executive Officer Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung and his team of dedicated staff under the guidance of an Advisory Board and the oversight of Loreto Ministries. Loreto Vietnam continues the vision of Trish Franklin and the belief of all Loreto educators, that the empowerment of disadvantaged students and communities through their right to experience quality education can bring about long term social change and true justice. Over 60, 000 children have been supported by the work of Loreto Vietnam over the last 23 years through the successful impact of long term, sustainable projects; however, the educational needs of many Vietnamese students continue today.
With Dung’s energy and passion leading the way, a few key visits were the highlights of our journey. We visited the Can Thanh Special School, in the Can Gio district. The students at this vibrant school all have special needs and come from very poor families. If not for the long-term partnership of Loreto Vietnam, the Can Thanh students would not have access to teachers who have completed extra training, health insurance, school provided lunches or the brightly painted classrooms and thriving garden beds in their brand-new school building. The school Principal Ms. Thu, is a warm, loving, experienced woman who demonstrates a humility which belies the exceptional work she does.
We also visited the Sunrise Special School in the Binh Minh district. The students here are taught by expert special education teachers, part funded by Loreto Vietnam, who ensure vocational training tailored to their students is a key part of the curriculum. The students at Sunrise received Christmas presents from the Loreto Vietnam staff and Loreto girls, the dignity and individuality of each student beautifully on display as they excitedly received their gifts.
At the Thi Nghe Children’s Centre in the Binh Thanh district of Ho Chi Minh city, pilgrims spent several days accompanying the children, many of whom have severe disabilities and illnesses. They sat quietly with children who were immobile, singing songs and offering a gentle hand. With those who were more active, wheelchairs were raced around the grounds, endless games of catch were played, and assistance with feeding the children under the guidance of brisk yet caring staff took place.
This extraordinary centre, which has been close to many friends of Loreto for some years, will now receive funding for much needed educational, medical and physical support resources via Loreto Vietnam. At a special assembly including the Thi Nghe children and Loreto girls, the Vice Director of the Centre, Dr. Lam, accepted the presentation of this support. Dr Lam spoke to our girls of the importance of making a difference in the world, of the choice they are called to make between working for dignity and for the fullness of life, or of standing back in the face of suffering and injustice and doing nothing.
Feeling the Loreto values in their bones, engaging with the world beyond their own lives, and recognising what is truly important whilst living an experience of faith, our students reflected…
“I believe that my gratitude will grow, and I will continue to make conscious decisions to show compassion.”
“I have learnt that Loreto is worldwide and provides so much assistance to people and makes their lives better and provides them with opportunities they may not have received otherwise. It makes me feel lucky to be involved in such a loving and helping community.”
These pilgrims will continue to walk with Loreto Vietnam in certainty that the incredible work they do truly makes a difference.
Author: Michelle McCarty
Images: Loreto Toorak Students on Pilgrimage in Vietnam