The St. Raphaela Day of Service was first held at Seisen International School in 2014 to honor St. Raphaela, the founder of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It started with small projects such as school beautification tasks and singing at retirement homes, but has since grown in leaps and bounds, with this year seeing more offsite community projects than ever before.

Everyone gets involved – including teachers, students, office staff, and even the guards at the gate — and works hard to make the day a success. School Head Colette Rogers explains, “Even the kindergarten students are involved! They serve food to the sisters on campus, the office staff and guards, and so on. It’s sweet, because the sisters started the kindergarten in 1949, and the school in 1962.”

This year the event was held on May 18, and Seisen’s students reached out to 10 new organizations through the Setagaya Volunteer Association, and worked with people with physical and mental disabilities, looked after children in nurseries, made bento for retirement homes, and much more. There were 30 activities in total — that’s more than double than when the Day of Service started in 2014 — and 20 of them were off campus. This meant that the campus was a little quieter than previous years, but here and there corners of the school buzzed with activity as students chatted happily as they worked.

Most of the on-campus activities were run by grade 11 students, who headed projects from their social justice class. They oversaw and guided their younger peers who had volunteered to help. Rogers says, “The day is an opportunity to build bridges not only to the local community, but also within the school. Students get to interact between the grades and get to know people they wouldn’t meet otherwise — it’s a learning experience beyond service.”

One of the onsite tasks involved painting art murals — the high school mural featured famous women such as Rosa Parks and Yayoi Kusama. Other teams made friendship bracelets for a fundraising project, repurposed textile waste into fashionable accessories, and yet others documented the whole affair on camera that they then uploaded to the school’s social media accounts and website.

“When it comes to service work, it’s not about you. And quite often service work can be boring, tiring and monotonous, and that’s okay.”

Charlotte Ross, Seisen’s religion teacher and head of the social justice committee, which is comprised of teachers K-12, representatives of the Seisen Parents’ Association and students, has been a quintessential part of the organizing team this year. She says she reminded students that some might fall for the celebrity factor of service and need to remember why people do it. “When it comes to service work, it’s not about you. And quite often service work can be boring, tiring and monotonous, and that’s okay.”

Even with Ross’s warning, everyone seemed to enjoy their tasks as they eagerly helped each other out for a greater cause. It was wonderful to see young people so enthusiastic about taking part in projects that make their school, their local community – and the world in general – a little bit better.

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Photos by Kriti Pam in grade 8 & Jessica Pender in grade 10

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