Bridging the gap

Redfern Jarjum College will hold its fundraising Gala night
at Sydney’s International Convention Centre on 15 June.

 WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED  

Katherine Zerounian, principal of Redfern Jarjum College, says: “Many of the families whom we welcome to Jarjum are experiencing poverty and the impact of intergenerational trauma. We provide hope to those who struggle to find it.” All photos: David McMahon

By David McMahon, Communications Manager, Society of Jesus in Australia 

Ask Katherine Zerounian, principal of Redfern Jarjum College, what their biennial Gala night means to her and she does not hesitate. “I see it as twofold,” she says. “The first is to help us raise funds to meet our annual operating costs. The second is to share the stories of our success and our journey and also, I guess, to be able to share with the wider community the work that we do here at Redfern. 

“Since its formation in 2013, our school has grown to respond to the growing need for an education model like ours in the Redfern community. When we first opened, we had only 15 students, and we now have 25 students and 17 staff members. We are so proud to call it ours. However, as we grow, so too do the running costs of our school and our programs.”  

Redfern Jarjum College was established in 2013 as a Catholic primary school in the Jesuit tradition, responsible to the Australian Provincial. The goal was to respond to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boys and girls, many of whom had previously attended mainstream schools without finding success in that environment.

Earlier this year, in a feature article, A Jesuit school for urban Aboriginal children in Sydney published on the Jesuits.Global website, Katherine explained how Ignatian spirituality, “characterised by ‘finding God in all things’, is being enriched at the unique school through reverencing and exploring Indigenous spirituality. Many of the families whom we welcome to Jarjum are experiencing poverty and the impact of intergenerational trauma. We recognise and celebrate daily the gifts of each child.” 

The school is unique because it serves as much more than just a place of learning. Jarjum offers a wide range of services to students and their families. In the words of the principal, “These include transport to and from school, all meals, including a cooked breakfast and lunch, all uniforms, stationery, a paediatric consultation twice a year, and an annual dental and eye check-up. We immerse our students in their Indigenous culture and aim to meet each child’s needs through social, physical, spiritual, academic and emotional engagement. Since its formation, our school has grown to respond to the increasing need for an education model like ours in the Redfern community. 

While the concept behind the school has been widely applauded, the reality is that the running costs have escalated as the number of students – and therefore, staff numbers as well – has increased. In that perspective, the Gala takes on greater significance.  

“To allow us to continue to provide care for our students and families, the Gala evening will showcase the work of Redfern Jarjum College and will also raise awareness of some of the critical issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education. We plan to use the evening to raise much-needed funds for our school programmes, grow our community profile and develop new relationships and partnerships.   

“During the Gala, we intend to immerse our guests in a cultural experience where they feel connected to our students and school and can then in turn share that knowledge. We will have local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers, keynote speakers and leaders in the local Indigenous community, including artists, entertainers and business leaders.  

“We hold this event every two years and it helps to bridge the gap. We have a silent auction on the night that brings in a significant amount of money. Our operating deficit does fluctuate each year, depending on a whole range of circumstances, but if we happen to raise more than we need from the Gala, any surplus goes into securing our future and our growth.” 

And what does the Gala mean to her personally? 

“For me, it’s a celebration of the journey, as well as the work that we’re doing. It’s affirmation of the fact that although we are on the ground every day and at the coalface as such, we are actually supported by a far greater network – the people who come to the Gala as a sign of support. So yes, it’s a reaffirmation of the work that we do within the community, but really it’s a celebration of our students, their respective journeys and also of the future of the school.”  

What does that Gala-generated funding do for the community in Redfern and, say, for a family with a pre-schooler who is possibly going to be a future student at Jarjum?  

“For one thing, I think it changes that scenario from a possibility to a probability, because we are essentially funding their future by creating an educational path, in that sense. We’ve been here for more than a decade and in the eyes of the community we’re really established and respected in a pretty solid way. This type of event really does help cement our place in the community as an important educational facility for young Indigenous people.” 

Because Katherine also sees the Gala as a chance to showcase certain stories, would she care to tell us about a couple of them? 

“On the night, there’s going to be a story about one of our Year Six students. He started with us when he was in kindergarten and in that time we’ve seen him develop by leaps and bounds to the point where he’s now ready to move into a mainstream high school. His story will be shared on the night – the challenges as well as the successes along the way, in addition to the people along his own journey who were really important to him.  

“The other story is about a graduate of ours, because we think it’s really important for people to hear about their story after they leave Jarjum. This student is now in Year 11 at St Scholastica’s College in Glebe. She will talk about her own time at Jarjum and how that experience really set her up for success at secondary school. More importantly, she will also explain what it means to her in the next chapter of her life beyond school.”  

Purchase tickets here for the Gala at the ICC Sydney on Saturday 15 June

Learn more about Redfern Jarjum College 

To inquire about donating items to the silent auction at the Gala, ring (02) 9936 5450 or email reception@rjc.nsw.edu.au 

Banner image by David McMahon