Alumni reconnecting through Journey of Service
Alumna, Maya Hendler, 24, travelled to Udon Thani in north east Thailand with principal, Bill Conway, teachers, Mozelle Ediriweera and Amy Goldman and six graduates, Kirrily Bruckner, Mahlia Davidson Nyika, Felix Howard-Griffiths, Hunter Kaye, Gabriel Tselepi and Sophia Wernicke in August 2018. This is a story of her journey with the children and what a profound and moving experience it was for her.
What are the first thoughts/feelings that come to you about your recent Journey of Service experience? What inspired you to join the graduates this year?
I was asked by Raji if I would be interested in joining Journey of Service (JOS) this year and I am so thankful she thought of me for this. Reflecting on the JOS I feel a strong, renewed connection to Montessori. I am so deeply thankful to have been given the opportunity to participate, to witness the growth of the graduates and learn from teachers Amy Goldman, Mozelle Ediriweera and principal, Bill Conway.
Could you explain a little about what you did while you were in Thailand? What did a day look like?
Our time at Udon Thani Home for Girls and the children from Chuakmuay Wittaya School was a deeply moving experience - challenging, heartbreaking and heartwarming on a number of levels. For me, to be able to work with the kids at the orphanage was incredibly special however to support and work alongside the six graduates, watching how they interacted and connected with the kids, was what made the experience so fulfilling. In the mornings at the orphanage the graduates would rotate between the toddler and 3-6 classrooms depending on what activity they had prepared - leaf rubbing, collage, experiment shelf - as well as spending time in the baby room to help with feeding. We would then break for lunch. The graduates were so adventurous in trying new foods and having the same meals as I know since returning home our graduates would like to find ways to stay connected and maintain these relationships.
After lunch the graduates would either spend time in the classrooms to work with the children, spend time in the baby room helping with bath time and/or spend time with the older kids after they returned from school - playing sports, teaching each other games and finding ways to communicate in the absence of a common language.
Watching how the graduates threw themselves into the experience was inspiring. The opportunity for the orphanage children to connect with others of the same age and from another country was truly special and we could see as the time came to say goodbye the profound impact that this connection had on the children at the orphanage and our graduates.
Now that you have experienced Journey of Service would you recommend it to other alumni?
The Journey of Service hadn’t started when I was at Montessori as the school was still quite small. We did sleep over at Taronga Zoo once! When I first heard about the Journey of Service I was incredibly excited that Montessori is able to offer such a profoundly meaningful experience to its graduates and after experiencing it for myself I can truly appreciate how invaluable it is. I know that more alumna like myself would love to be involved and be able to reconnect
with the school.
What do you treasure the most from your experience?
What I treasure the most from this experience is the connections I’ve made with the graduates and teachers. I got to meet, connect with and learn from six unique and sensitive graduates and form bonds with three passionate and supportive teachers. Being able to share our reflections of the day over dinner each night was a heartfelt means of connecting our experience.
Did you feel you could mentor the graduates/be their support? Can you share any examples?
I was lucky to join the Journey of Service as an alumna as it gave me the opportunity to connect to our graduates through our shared experiences moving through Montessori. It was special to share my memories of Montessori, starting in Vaucluse then to Bronte and Bondi. Then hearing from the kids about how much it has grown and changed during their time there. I was taught and mentored by Fiona Mackenzie and Phil Macken through primary and Raji has been a guardian to me since my first day at pre school. Being able to have those common connections to people and place was a strong point of bonding with the graduates.
During the Journey of Service I was focused on documenting the trip including reflections from the graduates. It was these conversations with each of the graduates where I was really able to get to know and support them, whether that was working through a challenge from the day and/or celebrating a highlight. Given the timing of the trip we also spoke a lot about the move from Montessori to high school. A move that is full of nerves and excitement - excitement about the new people they will meet and worry that they won’t form the same kind of relationships with their high school teachers as they have at Montessori. I hope sharing my experience shed some light on what to expect and after watching them through Journey of Service, I am sure they will take the move to high school in their stride.
Would you consider your Montessori experience influenced your choices in life?
I think it’s impossible to separate my experience at Montessori from the next chapters in my life. I feel that the sense of independence that Montessori instilled in me and the desire to work with and help others is deeply rooted in who I am today.
About Maya Hendler: Maya graduated Montessori East in 2005 and went to Reddam College high school. She has graduated from the University of NSW & COFA (Art & Design) with a BA in Fine-Arts, majoring in Indigenous & Environmental studies. Maya now lives in New York.
What is the Journey of Service?
The Journey of Service was first established at Montessori East in 2013 as an opportunity for students in their final year of primary school to experience the world beyond their community and to offer their service to others.
Service plays an important role in every aspect of a Montessori child’s education from the early years of practical life from sorting, scrubbing and sewing to early primary, where the children take care of each other and the environment, such as raising funds for community projects. As children approach adolescence their desire to understand their place in society and how they can contribute to it becomes much greater.
The Journey of Service is far more than just an event where the children are helping others for the greater good but an introspective ‘journey’ where the child forges a deeper connection with themselves and their purpose in life.