Guest speakers are giving Canberra school students first-hand insight into the homelessness, marginalisation and disadvantage encountered by thousands of Australians.
Sharing personal experiences as part of The Big Issue Classroom program, their messages are helping to break down stereotypes in the community.
St Thomas Aquinas Primary School teacher Ella Barry invited The Big Issue magazine vendors into her classroom after school principal Leah Taylor participated in the Vinnies CEO Sleep Out.
“My students became interested in deepening their understanding of disadvantaged people in our Canberra community,” Ms Barry said.
“As we entered lockdown, students became increasingly concerned with the welfare of all people in our local community, with a particular emphasis on those without somewhere safe to rest at night.
“They asked questions such as ‘How cold is it going to be tonight?’, ‘Why is there nowhere for these people to go?’ and ‘How will they get something to eat for dinner?’.”
Ms Barry said The Big Issue magazine and classroom workshops provided the perfect lens through which her students could view and understand homelessness in Canberra.
“It was my hope to eliminate the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’ to eliminate the stereotype associated with homelessness and to enable students to see that all people are deserving of dignity, safety and compassion, no matter their circumstances,” she said.
“The Big Issue representatives visited our school and shared with us the importance of a hand up rather than a handout.
“As a class we became passionate about how we could positively impact our local community and raise awareness of The Big Issue and provide a hand up for people in need.”
She said the students continued to buy copies of magazines from vendors in the community and had created their own “The Little Issue”.
“Students called themselves vendors and even created their own profiles for each magazine.”
The Big Issue Classroom program has run in Canberra for seven years. This year it hopes to add workshops at Woden Youth Centre and other community centres in Canberra.
The program also provides employment opportunities for guest speakers such as Peter, a vendor of The Big Issue magazine with his wife Genice in Queanbeyan.
Peter has spoken to students from schools across Australia.
“The younger generation may not be exposed to the situation a lot of vendors have gone through,” he said.
“They [Students] get an appreciation of where we are and where we’ve come from.”
Manager of The Big Issue Education Enterprises Julianne Gardiner said most of the workshops were delivered for interstate schools visiting Canberra but she hoped more local schools would get on board.
Ms Gardiner said the program provided students with a real-life insight into homelessness and disadvantage, and explored stereotypes and statistics.
The program also emphasises the importance of support networks and asking for help, and raises awareness of The Big Issue and its enterprises among young people.
“Primary school students learn about the importance of living in a supportive and connected community and our interactive learning activities spark discussion about fairness and diversity, needs and wants, happiness and wellbeing,” she said.
“Grade 5-6 and secondary school students hear from a guest speaker who has experienced homelessness, thereby deepening their understanding and empathy for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage. The students are encouraged to take positive action in their own lives and communities.
“We consistently receive great feedback from teachers and students that highlights what an impactful experience it is to attend a workshop.”