As Australians, April 25 – ANZAC Day – holds a special place in our hearts. It’s a day for us to pause and honour those brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our nation.
For many of us, it’s a sacrifice we can honour from a distance. For Oonoonba State School chaplain, Ros Parker, whose school hosts families stationed at Townsville’s Lavarack Barracks, she sees the impact of this sacrifice through the eyes of the children she supports.
“Within weeks of me starting [here], we had a father who was deployed overseas, killed in action… I will never forget walking into a classroom and seeing this little girl sitting next to the child, who had lost his father. She was trying to comfort him, all while knowing her father was over in the same place.
“Seeing that in her little eyes – the knowledge that her dad was in similar danger – but still trying to reach out and comfort her friend, gave me [insight] into the troubles that these families are facing. We then just opened up the room to the students and parents, passed out lots of teas and coffees, and tissues, and provided a space for the families to come and share,” Chappy Ros recalls.
The schools in close proximity to military barracks have as many as a quarter of their students from defence force families. Working alongside each school’s Defence Transition Aide, the school chaplains provide crucial support to these families during their times of need.
Mitchelton State School chaplain, Kyria Birch, whose school is home to families stationed at Gallipoli Barracks on Brisbane’s north side, explains that support for these families is vital due to the ever-changing, uncertain nature of their lives.
“When [children of defence force families] get here, making new friends is probably the hardest thing for them… Then, there’s the uncertainty of whether or not their parent is going to get deployed and how long they’re going to be away for… During that time is often when they need the most support,” she says.
Oonoonba’s Chappy Ros acknowledges that while there are certainly unique aspects to supporting Defence Force children and their families, the fundamentals of chaplaincy remain the same.
“It’s all about building relationships… Just doing life with them so when those big moments pop up, we’re just a natural part of their life and someone who they can talk with,” she says.
It’s not just the children who need the support. Many of the military families are highly appreciative of the support of the school chaplains, Ros explains.
“I’ve had numerous families who have transferred into the area and their child has found it difficult settling in, and so they’ve phoned me directly… They’re very open to what we do. They’re very willing to ask for help.”
You too can help make a difference in these young people’s lives by visiting suqld.org.au/donate. Thank you!