Mending fences helps build pride

Marsden High School students take a break from work.It was about more than fence mending for the intrepid Marsden High School students, teachers and their friends who gave up school holiday time to volunteer on Queensland farms affected by the recent devastating floods.

Working for a week with BlazeAid – a volunteer-run organisation born out of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria – they ripped out damaged fences, built new ones, untied wires, cleaned out debris, dug posts and tried to salvage what was left after flood damage.

The excursion with a difference was instigated by Marsden High's careers adviser and teaching and learning head teacher, Sheryn Symons.

She rallied 17 boys from years 9, 10 and 11, two teachers and, as she described them, "four thrill-seeking friends of Marsden".

Ms Symons said she wanted the boys to experience real-life work and also to help others in the community.

So at the end of last term, the group hit the road in two mini-buses for a 14-hour road trip to Toowoomba where they camped overnight, continuing for another four hours next morning to Ficks Crossing, near Kingaroy, to receive instructions and begin work.

"Muster was at 6:45 every morning. Here all workers had to present dressed in their work gear complete with their BlazeAid fluoro vests," said Ms Symons.

" Work on the farms would typically begin about 8:30am and finish about 4pm. This was luxury compared to the farmers who start at 6am every day and finish when it gets dark.

 "Going to the farms was an education for the boys and for the adults.

"One farmer's wife was telling us how she had to drive her children 4kms to the school bus stop, that the closest newsagent was 40kms away and the closest McDonald's was 90kms away.

"Another farmer told us that we had broken the back of the work that had to be done and that he now felt able to cope and to start again."

Ms Symons said the excitement among the boys about their work on the farms was "palpable" and it was "gratifying to see this excitement and pride in the work they had been doing".

 "They were required to do lots of manual labour and by the time they had to leave, they left many teary eyes," she said.

"They truly left an impression on the farmers with their hard work and commitment."

School principal Denise Lofts said the idea of "think global, act local" had never been truer than in the impact of this project.

The boys had returned to school "standing taller, looking wiser and feeling proud" and the experience resulted in a newfound resilience for all involved.

 "Helping the farmers was an exceptional, long-reaching experience for the boys and the farmers," Ms Lofts said.

Photo: Marsden High School students take a break from work. Photo by Sheryn Simons.

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