On Thursday the 13th February 2014, St Hurmizd Assyrian Primary School (SHAPS) along with St Narsai Assyrian Christian College (SNACC) warmly welcomed The Honourable Barry O’Farrell MP, Premier of the State of New South Wales to a special reception held at the Assyrian Church of the East’s Edessa Hall in Greenfield Park, New South Wales, Australia.
Premier O’Farrell was received by His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia AM, Metropolitan of the Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon accompanied by reverend priests, SHAPS Principal Mr Sargis Makko, SNACC Principal Mr John Haskal, church trustees, members of the Assyrian Schools Board and a large congregation of students, staff and parents.
The program commenced with the performance of the Australian National Anthem, Assyrian Church Anthem and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Aramaic language by the school choir, followed with a welcoming speech given by Mr Makko. In his remarks Mr Makko noted that the growing size of both schools and growing population of the Assyrian community in Australia was cause for both joy and happiness.
Mr Makko went on to thank the Australian government for the significant contribution it has made in making the existence of the Assyrian Schools possible and consistently supporting them over the course of the almost 13 years since their establishment.
Next Mr Andrew Rohan, Member of the New South Wales Parliament and member of the Assyrian Church of the East addressed the assembly describing his electorate of Smithfield and the surrounding suburbs as historic Assyrian-Australian communities and officially welcoming Premier O’Farrell to his first official visit to the Assyrian community. Mr Rohan expressed his pride in the Assyrian Schools, stating that they would be a source of immense achievement for future generations.
Mr Rohan continued expressing his love and sense of pride in the work of His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia with the Assyrian community in Australia, especially with respect to educational facilities, church buildings, elderly services and retirement villages.
Upon the conclusion of his speech, Mr Rohan expressed his gratitude towards the Assyrian Schools for their generous contributions towards the community through both educational and charitable endeavors.
Premier O’Farrell next spoke discussing the support of the government towards the establishment of such schools and its continuing contribution through grants in assuring the best quality education is offered to students of the Assyrian Schools. Further, the Premier stressed the importance which such strong cultural communities and their schools have on the wider nation of Australia, promising the Australian Government’s full ongoing support to the Assyrian Schools.
The Premier went on to give wise advise to the students imploring them to make the most of the educational facilities of the Assyrian Schools and to remain actively involved in the religious life of the Assyrian Church of the East. Premier O’Farrell noted that the work of His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia has had beautiful results for the community.
Before the conclusion of the program, His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia was called upon to give the keynote address. The Metropolitan personally welcomed Premier O’Farrell and thanked him for taking time out of his busy schedule to visit St Hurmizd Cathedral and the Assyrian Schools.
The Metropolitan provided an overview of the important services offered by the Assyrian Schools, namely academically, spiritually and culturally. Furthermore His Beatitude mentioned the great service the Assyrian Schools offer to newly arrived refugees from the Middle East offering one year free tuition for children from refugee families at the private educational institutions of the Assyrian Church of the East in Sydney. These services are not only financial but include settlement programmes designed to build the confidence of the students as they resettle in Australia.
It is also noteworthy that Premier O’Farrell has been a supporter of recognition of the 20th century Ottoman genocide of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek peoples and in 2013 led the New South Wales Parliament in officially recognizing the genocide.
Despite the suffering of the Assyrian people throughout history, the Assyrian community in Sydney has worked actively since it first became established. Both Assyrian Schools are the first in the history of the Assyrian diaspora in the western world and are a beacon of the Assyrian Church of the East’s spirituality and Assyrian nationalism.
The Assyrian Church of the East currently caters for almost 1,500 students per year in the Sydney area through the following educational facilities operated by the church; Grace Childcare (2-4 years of age), St Hurmizd Early Learning Centre (4-5), SHAPS (5-12), SNACC (12-18).