Every year there are a multitude of opportunities offered to TIGS students to learn about their local community, build intercultural understanding, grow their knowledge of issues impacting the world and partner with others to make a difference. The extensive community engagement opportunities at TIGS dovetail perfectly with the objectives of our International Baccalaureate programmes to extend student learning beyond academic study.

TIGS students embrace the opportunity to gain valuable, life-changing skills, develop empathy and character, and make meaningful connections as they support and partner with the local community. This is what TIGS is all about, as outlined in our Mission Statement, and it’s a sentiment embraced by students and staff alike.

The achievement of academic excellence in a caring environment that is founded on Christian belief and behaviour, so that students are equipped to act with wisdom, compassion and justice as faithful stewards of our world

In April, 16 students from Year 11 and 12 Geography and Society and Culture travelled to Vietnam for a cultural study tour and immersion, led by Mrs Amanda Lowe and Ms Kerry Goonan. The opportunity to understand the traditional life lived by the Vietnamese people and their centuries old farming and fishing practices in the fertile lands in the different regions brought the classroom inquiry to life.

Lilly Sands, Lucie Johnston and Mrs Lowe pay their respects at the Long Tan memorial

For the grandparents of the visiting students, Vietnam represents many years of daily news of war torn conflict, with many people knowing someone who served in the Australian forces. So it was with that recent historical but also generational perspective our students were able to pay their respects at the memorial at Long Tan, a time that they found deeply moving.

Mrs Lowe handing over a cheque to the Nun in charge of the orphanage

Another highlight of the trip was the community service work that the group undertook while they were travelling across the country. TIGS students visited a primary school in the remote Sapa region in the north of the country where they donated educational supplies. They also raised over $400 at a cupcake stall held prior to the trip which they donated to an orphanage for disabled children in Ho Chi Minh City. The students spent a number of hours volunteering at the orphanage, feeding and playing with the children. The resolution was made that this facility will continue to be supported by TIGS.

Such an immersion gives our students an international perspective on their studies and provides inspiration for their choice of the Personal Interest Project (PIP) which is a key part of the Society and Culture subject. Everyone benefited from the trip with our students summing it up as ‘confronting in the differences as to how people live’ but ‘so memorable’. They all agreed that it was a time they would always remember.

In the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, 1203 young people are homeless on any given night. Local charity event Ride Around the Lake, now in its 7th year, aims to break the cycle of youth at risk of homelessness. Participants take on either a 40-km circuit or a shorter 10km path for young riders and families. Riders are raising awareness and funds for Lighthouse Youth Initiative, based at Yallah, which provides safe and affordable accommodation for homeless youth as well as training, life skills and connections back to the broader community.

Damon Glynn, TIGS Year 1 student, having a great time at Ride Around the Lake

TIGS involvement in the 2016 event, held on 7th May was impressive with 27 riders comprising of both students and staff joining Team TIGS and raising over $1,200 towards the $25,000 for the event overall. Event organiser and Lighthouse Senior Leader, Paul Bartlett, was delighted with the great involvement of TIGS this year.

I heard about the huge contribution from TIGS and was really impressed by their dedication to the community and their generosity. We love seeing schools get involved in supporting youth at risk of homelessness

As Deputy Headmaster of TIGS, Judi Nealy has again had much to reflect upon since sleeping out again for the annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout. Having virtually no sleep on a very cold night in June, Judi spent many hours in discussion with the other CEOs but was particularly affected by the story of one lady who herself was homeless and who comes every year to sit down with everyone and share the latest update on her journey back to a full life. On her return to school, Judi has found herself in conversation with numerous students in the Junior School, eager to understand what she was doing, why she was doing it and what it was like.

Homelessness in the Illawarra is endured by a diverse range of people, both male and female, with the biggest group being males under 25. Judi and the others experienced the cold sleeping on cardboard but had the benefit of the warm clothes and sleeping bags they had brought from home and were nourished with hot soup and a bread roll. Together they raised over $139,000 towards the national total of $5,860,000 and the Vinnies team tell us 'Every dollar the Vinnies CEO Sleepout has raised helps provide crucial assistance to people experiencing homelessness, with the aim of breaking the cycle of homelessness permanently for as many people as possible. In 2016, the reality is that whilst we should celebrate all that we have achieved together, we must also remember that so much more still needs to be done'.

It is not too late to make a tax deductible donation through Judi's page to aid the work of the Vinnies volunteers in the Illawarra. Such a donation helps support the Vinnies van that goes out locally on weeknights to offer warm drinks and sandwiches to families and individuals in need or to the programmes that endeavour to break the cycle of homelessness.

Many people visiting TIGS Great Fete in recent years have remarked on the very friendly service offered by the team looking after waste management and sustainability. TIGS is committed to several important community partnerships and the opportunity to assist recently arrived refugees in their initial employment in the Illawarra rose naturally out of the school’s long and productive community partnership with SCARF.

The need for effective support at an event the size of the Great Fete brought the school to an ongoing relationship with Our Community Project Inc (OCP), a not for profit organisation that operates from the Port Kembla Community Centre. They successfully run a wide range of programs including Green Connect Illawarra. Looking closely at the Fete, Green Connect were able to improve resource recovery outcomes at the event. To achieve this Green Connect conducted a waste audit, created a waste management plan to improve resource recovery outcomes and installed new waste management systems, including bins and signage. On the day, the team of 14 were ready to assist all the visitors with the correct handling of their rubbish and very much enjoyed the great community atmosphere.

Every year families flock to the TIGS Great Fete to enjoy food, entertainment and the sense of community.

This kind of support has a ripple of effects. TIGS was able to achieve a good result this year with 73% of waste kept out of landfill. Marie Russo from Year 11, who stepped up to coordinate the Slushies stall, said that as a member of TIGS Community Problem Solving Team, it was really great to know that the cups and straws from her stall were being properly disposed of / recycled. James Cooper, another Year 11 Fete volunteer, said that he was very impressed to see how hardworking and committed the guys and girls from Green Connect were and that he hoped they enjoyed the day as much he and his friends did.

For the Green Connect workers this kind of paid experience out at a very large public event not only gives them valuable work skills here in the region but is also very effective in helping their inclusion in our community. TIGS currently has families from 41 different nationalities amongst its cohort and is very pleased to be able to support the transition of our newly arrived friends.

TIGS has a long history of welcoming new friends to our city and joined community partner UOW in presenting the Welcome to Wollongong event, held on Thursday 17 March in the graduation hall at the university. The evening was a huge success, with over 400 staff, students, and community members in attendance. UOW Masters and PhD students and their families, all new to the Illawarra, came and enjoyed the multicultural food prepared by the caterers from local refugee support group SCARF, and visited the information booths.

Xia Lian Wilson and Shin Yi Au Yeong performing Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower)

There was a varied range of entertainment during dinner and TIGS Senior School students Xia Lian Wilson and Shin Yi Au Yeong performed and sang with the Chinese Harp known as a guzheng. Shin Yi Au Yeong gave a very skillful solo performance of Gu Xiang de Qin Ren translating to Old Folks at Home (known to Australians as Swannee River) and then accompanied Xia Lian with Mo Li Hua. Some of the audience members were brought to tears by the beauty of these performances. Both girls and their families are to be commended for their generosity in sharing their time and talents.

Some of the audience members were brought to tears by the beauty of these performances

UOW were very grateful for our participation saying ‘Thank you again for being a part of the evening, with these events we are able to showcase Wollongong and the surrounding areas and more importantly the fabulous people that make up the community’.