Recently I had the pleasure of officially opening the Building the Education Revolution project at Huonville High School in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart. Huonville High was built in 1940 and has served for 70 years as the heart of a close-knit, determined community. It has educated the sons and daughters of farmers, foresters, fishermen and orchardists. Some of these sons and daughters of the valley left to build for themselves new lives in the city. Others stayed, using the knowledge gained at Huonville High, to build themselves a strong, proud community in the valley. All owe much to Huonville High.
I am pleased to say that Huonville High received $586,232 under the National School Pride Program and the Science and Language Centres for 21st Century Secondary Schools element of the BER. It was an investment in school infrastructure the likes of which Huonville High has never seen. The funding was used to build new science facilities, upgrade classrooms, upgrade the administration area to meet the needs of a 21st century school, build undercover walkways and improve outdoor areas.
For the first time in the school’s 70-year history the students have a new science lab, purpose built to meet the school’s needs and to meet the students’ needs. Each bench has a sink and taps for connecting Bunsen burners. A double-sided fume cupboard has been installed so students can perform experiments in safety and with the help or supervision of the science teacher or laboratory technician. Adjacent to the new science lab there is a dedicated science lab prep room, where all the equipment is stored in purpose-built units and where the school’s science laboratory technician can prepare all the equipment and materials needed for experiments in a facility designed for that task.
At Huonville High School the BER supported the employment of 20 workers during the global financial crisis. This makes a considerable difference to the local community and the local economy.
The BER opening coincided with the belated 70th birthday celebration for the school, and I offer my sincere congratulations to the school community, past and present, on achieving this significant milestone. Mr Harry Grimsey, a former student at the school and life member of the parents and friends association, reminded those attending the BER opening of what the school was like in its early years. The school was so starved of funds it was unable to purchase equipment needed to conduct science classes. Harry—with his fellow students, the help of the school’s first science teacher and the equipment in the metalworking department—blew glass rods into test tubes and beakers and made the other equipment they needed to hold chemistry classes.
The new science facilities built under the BER are a world away from the facilities used for the first science classes back in 1942. A lot of the credit for the project needs to go to the parents and friends association and to members of the school community, who lobbied ceaselessly for over 10 years to have dedicated science facilities built at Huonville High.
Those opposite say that the BER scheme was a waste. Those opposite say that the government should not have spent $14 billion on school infrastructure, the largest investment by an Australian government in schools in the history of this nation. Those opposite should hang their heads in shame that they have opposed improvements to Huonville High. Huonville High deserves first-class facilities, because Huonville High is a very special school. Not only is it an integral part of the community in Huonville and the Huon Valley but, through the various programs run and supported by the students, it is an integral part of the global community.
Huonville High School has a Student Working Against Poverty, or SWAP, program, which was founded in 2010 after a group of 22 students and staff travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia exploring the culture and cuisine of these countries and helping to build a food fish pond at a small school. Struck by the harsh realities of life in orphanages and on the streets, the students were determined to improve the lives of people living in impoverished communities. Currently involving 50 students across all grades, SWAP aims to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of poverty at school and within the local community and raise money to support poverty based and humanitarian projects around the world. Another project trip to Vietnam and Cambodia is planned for 2012, with 25 students booked to go and already undertaking a comprehensive program of learning.
The SWAP program teaches students about topics such as the Millennium Development Goals, microfinancing, individual aid and development programs in different countries, refugees and asylum seekers, and taking action against poverty. SWAP has been particularly active in organising a number of awareness-raising activities in the last 12 months. These have included Flight Against Poverty, where year 6 and 7 students created and flew their own kites decorated with antipoverty messages; hosting the Global Poverty Project’s 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation, with schools from all over the Huon Valley attending; and creating a hands-on activities based display for a Youth Week event—the Feelgood Festival held at the Hobart City Hall.
With an emphasis on creativity and participation, SWAP fundraising activities have been diverse, informative and, at times, entertaining, raising significant funds for the projects they support. The community of the Huon Valley has strongly embraced the SWAP program, with individuals, organisations and businesses offering in-kind support and assistance at events and fundraisers. The SWAP fundraising efforts have included Coffee for a Cause, where students learn to make quality espresso coffee at school and then work as part of the barista team at different community events, including Taste of the Huon, the Winter Challenge, the Huon Show and the Peace Festival; the SWAP shop at DS Cafe in Huonville, where the students are involved in staffing, in sourcing products for sale, in maintaining accounts and in stock control; Woodchop Day, where, with the generous donation of a truckload of firewood logs from a local family, local community members chopped the logs into firewood, which was then sold off in one-tonne lots; and a truffle dinner, which, through the generous donation of truffles by Perigord Truffles, the time and skill of a local chef and his team and the help of Huonville High VET Hospitality and SWAP students running front of house, a five-course menu was presented to over 60 guests, raising $4,000. SWAP also organises a variety of raffles during the year, including a pre-Christmas auction of goods and services, which raised over $2,500 last year. SWAP uses the funds raised to support many poverty based and humanitarian projects in Cambodia, Laos, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. In Siem Reap, Cambodia, these projects include constructing a library for the Enkosa River School, purchasing a block of land for the COSO orphanage to build a new orphanage, and constructing a fish pond at the Charm Bork Haey Village School. In Laos, SWAP has funded the distribution of the book Big Brother Mouseto promote literacy amongst young Laotian children in a remote village. In India, funds from SWAP were used to offer cataract surgery to nomadic communities living in the remote Indian Himalayas as well as to provide a testing machine to diagnose serious stomach diseases amongst Tibetan refugees living in northern India. In Timor-Leste, funds raised by SWAP have assisted World Vision to create seed banks, improve food storage and establish kitchen gardens.
The work of the SWAP students has not gone unnoticed in the community, and the SWAP program has been recognised locally and nationally for its efforts. In 2009 the SWAP program won the Best Small Business Exhibit at the Huon Show, for Coffee for a Cause. In 2010 it won the Human Rights Week Organising Committee’s Award for Humanitarian Action in Schools for Tasmania as well receiving a Highly Commended High School award in the sustainability category in the national Kids Helping Kids Awards. This year it won a national Anti-Poverty Week School Award in the Connections UnitingCare Anti-Poverty Week Awards.
In closing, I would like to congratulate Huonville High for the SWAP program, and for the contribution that it makes to our society. It is heartening to see teenagers engaging with their community and the world and actively working to improve it. Congratulations and thanks need to go to the principal, the staff and of course the students at the school. The fundraising and awareness-raising efforts of these students will make a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people they will never meet. Through their efforts, they will help to alleviate poverty and hunger, to treat and prevent illness and disease and to reduce the great human suffering that comes from these. They should all be proud of their efforts and we should all be very proud of them.