For the 21 young adults who participated in the Life Matters course in Melbourne, Australia, it was a life-changing experience.
Over nine days in February, they examined issues of culture and identity, the wounds of history, forgiveness, conflict transformation and the moral and spiritual qualities needed to become a change-maker. Along the way they learned to overcome fears through rock climbing; and listened to the extraordinary stories of people working to make a difference in the city – and also to their own life stories.
One participant decided to stop taking illegal drugs – a decision that was tested when the group went to serve meals to homeless people and he found his regular supplier among the recipients. Ignoring the offer of drugs, he focused instead on helping others. ‘I felt so proud of myself!’ he says. Another participant, who had regularly used sports facilities dishonestly without paying, decided that he ‘no longer wanted to be that kind of person’ and resolved to pay back the money. The course aims to help 18-30 year olds discover a purpose and a path for life.
Rosemary Thwaites, one of the faculty for the course, writes:
We were at maximum capacity in the Australian centre, Armagh, for the 2011 Life Matters Course. 21 participants came, including 14 Australians from different cultural backgrounds...Aboriginal, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Kenyan, Anglo, Chinese. It is always intense and rewarding work for those in the faculty: an experience of team-responsibility; careful planning; also thinking on one's feet and trusting the outcomes. All present, of every age, were impacted by the personal life stories which they were privileged to hear over two evenings. Some found it healing. There was joy in new friendships, in the dance workshop, in singing together (especially The Skins Song taught by Kym and Shirley from Tennant Creek, Northern Territory), and going out to dinners in homes of generous Melbourne families. The final evening of the course was a highlight. The participants rose to the occasion and shared their art work, original music, photos, poems and stories. They shared brave decisions and opened our eyes to history.
Five participants stayed on for the Extension Course: the two community workers from Tennant Creek; a student from Papua New Guinea; the 24-year-old president of IofC Cambodia and a Kenyan – part of Action for Life (AfL.). They met local leaders around Melbourne and were received for a wonderful meal in the home of the former Head of the Islamic Council of Victoria and his wife.
The support of David and Judith Curtis from IofC and Foundations for Freedom UK, who contributed their wide experience and care during the 2½ weeks, was invaluable. They went on to work with AfL in Malaysia and to participate in Tools for Change there, where David gave the keynote address.