Heathdale flower 27th January 2021

Payatas It Forward

Ping Pong to battle slavery and pencil cases to generate wages are just some of the solutions Alex Richardson and his friends have used to change people’s lives.

Heathdale flower

Apart from a year spent living in England, College Vice Captain Alex Richardson has been at Heathdale since his Kindergarten year. During his Secondary years Alex has been at the forefront of several student fundraising events at Heathdale, which is a big part of the reason he was an easy choice for the ADF Long Tan Award.

Over the years, he’s been involved in organising an annual Ping Pong-a-thon at Heathdale which raises funds and awareness to help young people enslaved through human trafficking. This last year, the incredible student team had a full schedule of educational and fundraising events that not only raised a record figure, but helped open other student’s minds to this global issue. The event was also recognised as the biggest school event the Pong Foundation is affiliated with.

Along the way there’s been silly sock days for World Bicycle Relief, sausage sizzles, pizza lunches, movie nights and roses made from refuse. Alex’s final event was Stand Up For Little Lives, a fundraiser for Rehoboth Children’s Home in the Philippines. This organisation supports the needs of orphaned, abandoned or neglected children by providing them with accommodation and educational opportunities. Even though the College was in Remote learning mode at the time, the team still managed to run their fundraiser online and substantially broke their initial goal to raise over $10,000.

Alex isn’t a stranger to great causes, but his deepest connection probably runs with the people of Payatas. Until its closure by the government in 2017, Payatas was the largest open dumpsite in the Philippines. Over 30,000 people called it home and relied on it for their livelihood.

Fundraising helps families living in Payatas to access training to learn new skills which they can use to earn money to support their families. Every year, Heathdale students have the opportunity to participate in a mission trip to the Philippines where they visit the Payatas community. Alex and the team arranged to sell products made by the people of Payatas. Originally selling handmade roses at the school production of Beauty and the Beast in 2019. Lately, Alex struck a landmark deal with Heathdale’s book supplier, Campion. In 2021, each Primary student will have a Payatas Pencil Case on their booklist, creating jobs for six people in Payatas.

Alex credits the school with encouraging students from a young age to become involved and care for others. “I can still remember the presentations given in assemblies by some of the older students who had been to the Philippines, but the ultimate thing that encouraged me to become involved was going on a Philippines trip myself,” he said.

Alex has learned a lot about leadership through his involvement in these different projects. “The best way, in fact the only way to learn about leadership is by doing it,” he’s learned. “Get involved and throw yourself into it. I think my friends and I have definitely done that a lot. You don’t have to be the best people or the most skilled people for the job but when you have a passion for something it doesn’t matter if you don’t yet have the skills. You can learn skills as you go.”

Year 12, 2020 was definitely a year with a difference for Alex and the Class of 2020. “It was definitely interesting and very odd, definitely not how I had planned,” he said. “We lost a lot of things that we would normally have done but it was still good and we were able to pull together and still connect with one another. I think we were able to work together and help one another and, at times, even help our teachers with technology! Throughout the year the other captains and I shared in a ton of home rooms with different year levels which included taking devotions. We each had a theme to talk about. Mine was about loss of purpose because we couldn’t do the things we would normally do. I reflected a lot on this personally. Sport, youth group, attending church, seeing friends are things that often give me purpose in my life. If I can’t do any of these things then what does give my life purpose?

“The Bible verse I focussed on was Luke 12:7, ‘What is the price of five sparrows — two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.’

“Even when we can’t do ‘normal’, we can find our purpose in Jesus. Despite the circumstances we find ourselves in, God is still our rock and our purpose.”

Alex’s involvement in social justice projects won’t end with the conclusion of his time at Heathdale. “In 2021, Danielle Cook (College Captain) and I plan to intern with the Pong organisation. We’ll be coordinating events for different schools. They’re definitely not gonna let me go!” he said. “I’m planning to study commerce then law at Uni but also want to do a Diploma course at Ridley Bible College next year as a break between school and Uni. The degrees will be a pretty long hike so meeting and working with a Christian community will be good.”

We wish Alex all the best as he continues with the next stage of his life and continues to share his passion for social justice with others.