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A just immersion

Anna Watt  |  01 June 2016

Ensuring our interactions with communities in need are positive ones.

How much of what we do is really for others? Is our main drive to satisfy peoples’ needs, or do we sometimes help others to make ourselves feel good? Caritas Australia's Education Team has been working on this issue directly, focusing on school immersion trips and their impact on disadvantaged communities.

While overseas immersion programs can be ‘life-changing’ experiences to the traveller, they sometimes become more of a poverty-safari than a working relationship between communities.

Caritas’ new JUST VISITING? resource has been put in place to ensure that immersion experiences result in a beneficial and enduring impact.

The resource consists of filmed and written interviews with Sister Len, who works in a Caritas-supported program in Cambodia, and the Caritas Australia programs coordinator, Kath Rosic. The model is a free and printable online resource that includes editorial cartoons and links to related material.

Caritas employee Melissa Murga spent months developing the resource.

‘The resource came about after years of thinking about how we can best support Catholic schools in their immersion programs’, she says.

The immersion model is founded upon four core principles of Catholic Social Teaching: The Dignity of the Human Person, The Common Good, Solidarity, and Subsidiarity.

‘The title of the resource alludes to the questions: “Are your visits just? Are your visits mutually beneficial? Are you invited or imposing? Are you visiting or learning or giving or receiving? No one has a 100% correct way of conducting immersions, just as there is no silver bullet to ending poverty… but we believe that as people of faith, we cannot grade ourselves on a more lenient curve just because of good intentions. We have to engage in the complex reality.’

Michael Wright, social justice coordinator at St Ignatius’ College in Geelong, has adopted the new resource in the lead up to the college’s immersion trip to East Timor in June this year.

‘T. S. Eliot wrote in his poem, Four Quartets, the profoundly sad line, “We had the experience, but missed the meaning”. We find that through reflection and daily journalling students are better able to understand the meaning behind what we do.

‘Our students offer the skills that they posses, conversational English, friendship and their time. In return we ask for nothing other than acceptance of who we are and an invitation to learn from one another.’

Caritas Australia Education Team is offering professional development sessions for teachers that unpack the themes and tools in JUST VISITING? Contact for more information.


Anna Watt is a member of our young writers community.



Topic tags: socialjustice–australia, socialjustice–global, catholicsocialteaching, volunteeringandtakingaction

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