O’Connell Secondary School in Ireland and Immersion in Zambia
In an era when the nature and value of Catholic education is under scrutiny, Immersion is a real unique and inspirational expression of the Edmund Rice ethos. A prerequisite for such expression is that the aims and philosophy of Immersion are clearly understood.
The Edmund Rice Developing World Immersion Programme is an initiative begun by the Christian Brothers that encourages schools in the European Edmund Rice family to connect with Christian Brother and other communities and projects in the Developing World and, in so doing, forge relationships of radical solidarity, mutual affirmation and friendship with marginalised people who are poor.
This encounter with victims of poverty and injustice will lead the involved schools into ever deeper relationships with these communities to the extent that the Immersion Programme participants cease to regard themselves – or be regarded – as ‘visitors’ or ‘outsiders’. Instead, through the entire immersion process, both partners come to view each other as brothers and sisters, as one community, as one family. In short, they become one. As Brother Philip Pinto commented in 2012, “Edmund opened his whole heart to the poor. Compassion was at the heart of what Edmund was about.”
O’Connell Secondary School has been organising an Immersion Project in Zambia for teachers and pupils since 2005. It is a fantastic opportunity and perhaps a once in-a-lifetime occurrence for the pupils of our school to experience life with local communities in the Developing World.
The true purpose of Immersion is not to change Africa, but to let Africa change you.
A Student Immersion experience is not designed to be a ‘poverty relief mission’. Of course, it is true that potential destinations will have great economic and social need, but to expect a small group of inexperienced senior students to change the world in two weeks is clearly unrealistic.
Students and their schools will be encouraged to examine their places within the global community, and to look within themselves in an attempt to make sense of their emotional and spiritual selves. Practically, an Immersion experience is intended to fully expose candidates to the social and cultural realities of another continent. The emphasis is on experiencing diverse aspects of the community in which they are ‘immersed’, including work, domestic life, education, social outreach, poverty, recreation and religion. However, in order to balance this breadth of experience, groups will be asked to focus upon specific projects for at least four days of their trip. Faith development, personal development and education for social justice are three themes that have been at the core of the O’Connell School Immersion experience in Zambia since 2005.