Self-esteem, optimism and hope were once foreign words in the remote Indigenous school community of Woorabinda. That was two years ago…
Today, the community is a centre for encouragement, support and love, where hope, optimism and self-esteem abound, thanks to its school chaplain.
Second-year chaplain, Rachel Walmsley, says the transformation in the school has given her immense satisfaction and demonstrates the power of love and compassion over anger and despair.
“When I first started here, many of the students struggled with self-esteem. For a variety of reasons, we had children who were having troubles sleeping, and not knowing how to positively cope with their emotions.
“In a community filled with the most beautiful people, they needed to learn to love themselves and learn how to cope positively with their emotions,” Chappy Rachel says.
When Rachel first arrived in the region in 2015, she saw a community of young people in need of love and hope.
It’s the very reason that inspired her to become a chaplain.
Stepping into the school chaplain’s role in Woorabinda, she quickly understood that good intentions alone were not enough.
“For me the most important thing about chaplaincy is to show these young people that they’re loved for who they are and they don’t need to be anyone different,” she says.
Inspired by her Christian faith, Chappy Rachel aimed to model the love, compassion and respect that she hoped would translate into the students’ lives.
She was also actively involved in running programs to promote positive behaviours among the students.
One such program, ‘Bucket Fillers’, encourages students to build one another up and increase their self-esteem. They do this by ‘filling the buckets’ of their classmates with positive language, rather than tearing them down with negative speech.
“Bucket Fillers is really good. It’s great to hear the kids [correcting their friends who have said something inappropriate by] saying ‘that’s not bucket filling’.”
This major cultural shift has led to a noticeably different atmosphere within the school.
Rachel’s caring heart and healthy attitude also extends to the school’s staff.
“Because we’re a rural and remote school, we get a fresh batch of new teachers every two to three years. So we have all new teachers. I knew it was vital to support them, so they in turn could love the kids.”
Chappy Rachel’s passion for her school community is clearly evident whenever she talks about them.
“They’re just beautiful people who have welcomed me with open arms.
“I feel so privileged to be here working in this environment and seeing what a difference a little love, compassion and understanding can make,” she says.
You too can reach children and young people in remote communities by supporting school chaplaincy. Visit suqld.org.au/donate.