Social studies becomes a lesson in social justice

April 12, 2016

SUGAR LAND — Each year, the students of St. Laurence Catholic School in Sugar Land combine social studies and social teachings to not only discuss the Catholic response to some of the big issues that confront the world, but to make a difference, as Christ teaches each of us.

This year, as they have in past years, fourth-graders raised funds to help two refugee families. But not just any families. After reading about and deliberating current events, they chose to assist a family from Syria, and a family from Cuba — recent arrivals to Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program. 

The students were moved by the families’ stories:
• Abed and Eman have four daughters — Weham, Reham, Islam and Sham — and a son, Hazam. Persecuted for their Sunni Islamic faith, they fled their home in Damascus to Jordan, where they lived in a U.N. refugee camp for two years. Abed suffers from a life-threatening medical condition which went untreated in the camp. “I felt that if I died, I could not do anything for my kids. But finally, my dreams came true,” he said. For this father, being sent to the United States was a godsend. His medical treatment gives him hope. But he says that even if the treatment he receives here doesn’t save him, he knows his kids will have a future. For now, he is unable to work, so it falls to Eman, his wife, to find employment. She’s learning English as fast as she can, she said (in English). The kids are learning English and Spanish in school.

• Adrian and Maria were doctors in Cuba who were conscripted to work in Brazil. The couple’s children, Adrian and Lauren, weren’t allowed to go with them. The kids remained in Cuba with a family member who later managed to get them to Brazil for a visit. The reunion angered the Cuban government, Adrian said, which ordered the children’s return or face deportation and prosecution. Threats quickly escalated, and Maria was ordered to return to Havana, where her passport was confiscated. She eventually made her way back to Brazil on a tourist visa. Reunited again, the family went to the U.S. Consulate and applied for parolee status under program that allows Cuban medical professionals who are forced into foreign service to immigrate to the U.S. “I feel very happy to wake up and know that I live in a free country,” Adrian said, “where my children will learn to respect those who think differently, and to love as the Lord loves us.” 

The fourth-graders at St. Laurence learned all about these two families’ struggles in the course of their project. They also got to know the kids they were helping: their hobbies, their favorites, their needs, their hopes and dreams. 

Then, the students earned money doing household chores, such as mowing lawns, taking out the trash, washing clothes, dishes, cars and dogs. The money they received from their parents was pooled to buy both the children in both families the things that they most wanted: art supplies, soccer balls, toys, dolls and clothes. Both families also received a new laptop. Each family also received a carload of household items from St. Laurence’s Social Concerns Ministry.

The gifts were presented March 23 at a school assembly. Speaking for their respective families, Eman and Adrian expressed their gratitude for the students’ sacrifices — and for the example the students set for their own children. After the assembly, the younger kids joined the fourth graders on the playground.

Every grade at St. Laurence is involved in performing coordinated corporal works of mercy with grade-appropriate projects, said Suzanne Byrne, the school’s director of advancement:

• Pre-K and seventh-graders made more than 400 box lunches.

• Kindergarteners donated items for a “Birthday-in-a-Box” to benefit a local homeless shelter.

• First-graders bagged more than 800 rice-and-bean dinners for day laborers.

• Second-graders made and sold prayer cards which raised more than $1,500 to benefit Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Houston.

• Third-graders planted and grew Job’s Tears, the beans of which made enough beads for 75 chaplets for seniors at Mamie George Community Center in Richmond.

• Fifth-graders participated in a read-a-thon and donated 12 netbooks to St. Laurence’s sister school, Queen of Peace. 

• Sixth-graders held a day of service at Mamie George, where they cleaned and restocked the center’s basic needs pantry and participated in an art project with seniors. 

• Eighth-graders organized and hosted a food drive with the Social Concerns Ministry to benefit 800 families at Thanksgiving.

“We want other parishes to know what our students are doing,” said Pennie DeGroot, director of St. Laurence’s Social Concerns Ministry. “We think other parishes would want to do this, too.”