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A teen with a mission: Reflections and activities

James O'Brien  |  20 March 2019

The following reflection questions and activities draw on the article, 'A teen with a mission' in the 2019 Summer edition of Australian Catholics. Invite students to read the article and then engage with them. 


1. Sophia Skarparis’ example shows us that one person acting with inspiration and purpose can change society. What is a petition and how did Sophia use one to build public momentum around banning plastic bags?

2. NSW is the only state yet to ban single use plastic bags. How do these bags damage the environment?

3. Sophia’s campaign has inspired a ‘Bye Bye Plastic Bags’ mantra for change. Why is it important for a campaign to have a compelling message?

4. Several organisations, companies, local councils, and now the NSW state opposition committed to supporting the campaign. What does this level of support mean for the prospect of new legislation banning the plastic bag?

5. Sophia began building a coalition for change from efforts among school peers, neighbours and her local church. Now she is talking with the NSW Premier and has a petition tabled in parliament. Why is it important to begin our advocacy efforts on the local level?


1. As part of Sophia’s campaign she received signatures for the petition at screenings of A Plastic Ocean. Watch the trailer for the film and prepare an advertisement for a screening of the film with post-film discussion. Workshop with two colleagues who you would like to invite to be on a panel discussing the film. Now, imagining you are the chair of the panel, create the first question you would seek to ask panellists.

2. Sophia Skarparis has been able to build a coalition of people and community groups working together to change her state’s approach to plastic bags and thus the NSW impact on the environment. Brainstorm as a class what steps Sophia took in preparing her project before she began taking action in public. Watch Sophia’s Bye Bye Plastic Bags Day of Action video from October 2018 and browse Sophia’s website. Ask together as a class: How did Sophia become aware of the problem? What steps did she take towards action? How did momentum build?

3. Have a conversation in pairs about what political, social or environmental issues you care deeply about. What problem would you like to solve, or on what issue would you like to be an advocate for change? Notice what moves within you as you talk about this issue you are passionate about - and discuss your desire with a friend. What would your first steps need to be on the road to advocacy and change?

4. American civil rights leader Dr Howard Thurman would ask us to consider a different question. He is quoted as saying ’Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive’.

Take time in quiet over the weekend to reflect on this thought. Remove all distractions and take time to focus on making a spiritual exercise on what makes you really ‘come alive’. Begin by noticing God’s presence with you. Next, after closing your eyes, see in your mind’s eye the sorts of activities and actions that give you energy and life. Now become aware of the desires you have for your future. See your talents and gifts within a vision of hope. Take time to let your imagination wander in these areas. After several minutes in quiet, stop to notice what has emerged for you and note down anything you have gleaned from this exercise. Repeat this spiritual exercise next weekend and ask yourself what has emerged out of these reflections.

5. Watch CAFOD’s animation on Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’. Discuss as a class: How does Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ inspire you to act on behalf of the environment? How can we best listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor? What does our listening compel us to do?

For younger students
‘A teen with a mission’ invites us to consider how best to make a difference in the world around us.

1. Brainstorm the various community issues experienced by people in your local area, noting them down in a mind map. Now discuss as a class and choose one issue you could all work together to take action for change. What will your first steps be? Would creating a petition be the first step for you to take? What other options do you have? Who in the class would like to volunteer to take the lead on how we will move forward together as a class? Ideally you will need at least three people to work together to lead and motivate the class towards making this change in your community.

2. Spend time in quiet reflecting on what your passions are. Ask - what are my talents? How do I want to make a difference? What gives me joy? Share your dream for your life with your family through a creative work - a painting, a piece of music, a poem or a speech.


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