Care and Compassion in Crisis

17 Jun 2021

By Contributor

Courtesy Catholic Education WA

St Mary’s Northampton Principal Ben Will (centre) with Australian Defence Force personnel who assisted with the clean-up of Cyclone Seroja. Photo: Supplied.

In the days after the recent Tropical Cyclone Seroja tore through the State’s Mid-West, many in affected towns and communities faced the daunting and
immediate task of restoring their homes and finding ways to re-establish their communities.

Principal of St Mary’s School Northampton, Ben Will, was shocked with what he witnessed following the cyclone.

“When I saw our town after the impact of Cyclone Seroja, it was devastating,” he said.

“Our school and community were a mess. Roofs had been ripped off houses, trees had been stripped of branches, insulation from homes blanketed the town.

“The vastness of the damage was overwhelming, and it was hard to tell where to start. Father Larry Rodillas, our Parish Priest’s house, was destroyed and his roof sheeting, timbers and insulation littered the school

“A huge pepper tree had also fallen right into our playground,” he said.

St Mary’s School Northampton suffered from severe damage as Tropical Cyclone Seroja tore through the community. Photo: Supplied.

While the damage to other Catholic schools in affected communities wasn’t as severe, there was urgent work ahead to ensure all nine schools would be safe to open at the start of Term Two – less than a week later.

There was a shared sense that having schools operating as normal would be an enormous support to the small communities who were coming to terms with widespread devastation and loss.

“Our Catholic school community in Northampton is built on a foundation
of helping and supporting those in need. So, when I could see that so many students, staff, parents and wider community members would be impacted, it was hard to digest” Mr Will said.

A dedicated Critical Assessment Team set up by Catholic Education Western Australia arrived in the region, and as soon as it was deemed safe and working alongside school principals and the regional officer, clean up and
repair work got underway.

In Northampton, the Australian Defence Force were on hand to support the school clean-up operation, swiftly clearing debris and cleaning up the school grounds, while the local Shire provided a generator and helped get St
Mary’s School ready to re-open.

Members of the Australian Defence Force were on hand to support the school clean-up operation, helping to clear debris and make the premises safe. Photo: Supplied.

Catholic Education Western Australia staff rallied supplies for students, creating special school backpacks that were ready and waiting for St Mary’s School students when classroom doors opened on the first day of school.

CEWA staff located at the Geraldton regional office also spent time at the school during the first week supporting teaching staff.

Members of the school community lent support to one another, even creating a support website to help families access uniforms and to arrange lunches for students and members of the community.

Mental health and wellbeing support for staff and families was also on hand for all communities affected by Cyclone Seroja, and resources were developed for teachers and parents to support children as the reality of
rebuilding their lives took hold.

Witnessing the compassion and care that was evident in the aftermath of Cyclone Seroja may not be uncommon as millions of people around the world suffer at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, for small communities in the Mid-West, the pastoral care and support offered brought hope and courage.

“I feel a great deal of pride and admiration for our school and wider community,” Mr Will said.

“Through all of the hardship faced, our community has displayed a great depth of resilience. Disasters have huge impacts on small regional communities. This disaster has brought out the very best that Northampton has to offer.

“There is plenty of work to go, but I can say with great confidence that St Mary’s and Northampton will get through this and be stronger as a result.”