Meriden’s philanthropic spirit burns bright

21 May 2020

Developing community-mindedness is at the heart of a Meriden education. And for over 120 years, Meriden girls have been giving back to their communities by donating time and funds to those in need.

In the 1920s, dances were held in order to raise money for organisations that supported underprivileged children, including Ashfield Infants’ Home. These were the gala events of the year for the community, with history books noting the School grounds were prettily lit by electric lights and the police band played from a balcony.

Ever-attuned to global issues and eloquent in their discussion of them, Meriden students wrote in the School magazine in 1939, “We are young yet, but it is our duty to start now to try and do something to secure the future peace of the world. Our parents have seen three wars, and we must make some endeavour to ensure we do not see the same.” However, the country was already preparing for WWII and when troops began leaving Australian shores, Meriden girls threw their energies into knitting socks and scarves for soldiers and donating supplies to children who had been affected by bombing in Britain. In 1940, the girls opted to forgo the prizes they would normally receive at the Swimming Carnival and at the end of the school year, donating the allocated funds to the war effort.

Today, Meriden kindles this philanthropic flame in the students’ early years and Junior School girls are invited to volunteer to join cocurricular groups such as the Environmental Team and the Cultural Awareness Team which coordinate social justice programs that positively impact local and national communities. While they are provided input and direction by staff, the students run these groups independently, generating ideas for community engagement and carrying out awareness and fundraising programs.

House Service Weeks are one of the main ways in which Senior School students organise large-scale fundraising and incorporate philanthropic principles into the everyday routines of the students. In the School’s early years, Houses and their activities were managed by teachers but in 1939, these responsibilities were handed to the students, who confidently and enthusiastically picked up the leadership baton and never looked back.

During the historic global shutdown of 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many expected that the girls’ House-based charity activities would be put on hold. But Meriden girls made it clear that this was essential work and they were determined to continue to hold House Service Weeks while the School was in online learning mode.

Warwick House Officers were one group who had to think creatively in order to press on with their Service Week during this time.

Warwick House Captain, Coco Chung, said her team had planned to hold three major events that would raise funds, support and awareness for CanTeen, including the sale of bubble tea and bandannas at lunchtime. The girls decided that they could still support CanTeen while the School community was in lockdown by encouraging staff and students to participate in “Meaningful Messages”, whereby they composed brief messages of support and encouragement for teens battling cancer, which were then delivered to CanTeen for distribution.

“Service Week is an important tradition at Meriden,” Coco said.

“It helps girls to appreciate what they are fortunate enough to have and to think about how they can use their gifts to give back to the community. In life, there will always be obstacles and setbacks but Meriden girls have the resilience and flexibility to overcome these, as our 2020 Service Week has shown.”

Coco said the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that we are all capable of serving others and the importance Meriden places on giving back has encouraged many girls to look beyond Service Weeks to contribute to the wellbeing of others.

“This has been one of the most difficult and stressful times our community has experienced,” she said.

“In these times of isolation, service to the community can take many forms, like individual prayer; calling friends and family members to see if they are okay; and organising video calls to re-establish social connections and help each other feel less lonely. There is always light at the end of the tunnel and Meriden girls can light the way by supporting each other and the wider community.”

Oxford Service Week will take place between 25 and 29 May. While students will be back on School grounds, social distancing restrictions are in place and make traditional fundraising events difficult. Oxford House Captain, Liliane Spratt, said adapted plans for the Service Week will raise awareness for the charity, Drought Angels, and for the ongoing impacts of drought in Australia.

“Although the catastrophic bushfires are over and the severity of the drought has decreased in some places over the past few months, farmers and many others in rural and remote areas are still impacted by very low levels of rainfall,” Liliane said.

“The Oxford House Officers have prepared a fun-filled video for Senior School students to watch in Pastoral Time, which includes information about Drought Angels and aims to inspire the girls to do what they can to look after our environment, like saving precious water, regardless of dam levels.”

“This time of COVID-19 has shown us that during a crisis, Australians band together to support each other and we hope to continue to do that with our Service Week this year,” she said.