Vmail is all about connecting Mercy women – sharing stories of our Villa Alumnae, current students, and the College. It’s one way all Villa past pupils can keep in touch, reminisce and celebrate our wonderful College.
This is the annual publication of the Villa Maria College Past Pupils’ Association and is emailed or posted to all members of the PPA.
Mercy Grant – Meet our 2020 Recipient
Catherine Sivertsen Campbell
The Past Pupils’ Association is proud to continue to offer its Mercy Grant, which is worth $2,000 and is awarded to one past Villa girl each year who is undertaking extraordinary work or study that aligns with Villa’s Mercy values.
The PPA is pleased to receive a number of impressive applications for the Grant each year, and it’s wonderful to see so many of our past pupils undertaking life-changing work in the community – both in NZ and overseas.
What has poverty got to do with children’s language development? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit.
Meet Catherine Sivertsen Campbell, a Villa past pupil, and this year’s recipient of the PPA Mercy Grant. Catherine attended Villa from 1989 to 1993, and went on to become a Speech Language Therapist.
“Ever since my first Mercy Day at Villa, where I was encouraged to hang out with a non-verbal disabled child in a wheelchair, I have found joy in my work as a Speech Language Therapist, frequently working closely with the poor, the disadvantaged and those on the fringes of New Zealand society,” explains Catherine.
“Language is a taonga, a treasure, it is how we make sense of our world and our place within it, it is inseparable from our thinking skills, and as the foundation for all literacy and learning, language has become the currency of education. Of all the neuro cognitive domains, language is also the most susceptible to poverty. Unfortunately, it is also the easiest to ignore. Language delay is not visible, it’s not immediately obvious and as a result, it is frequently overlooked. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to poverty in our country and the devastating impact it has on language development and education.”
UNICEF NZ reports that in 2017, 27% of children in New Zealand were living in poverty. UNICEF defines poverty as “children being deprived of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive.” Catherine identifies language as one of these resources.
“Research tells us that children from low socioeconomic homes typically hear far fewer words, have fewer words spoken to them, have lower quality interactions and have less rich and diverse conversational experiences than those children from wealthier backgrounds.”
“Children in New Zealand are increasingly starting school with low levels of oral language and communication skills. This can result in behaviours that are not conducive to learning. This has far reaching consequences for future learning, future earning potential, future health status and future quality of life outcomes,” adds Catherine.
Catherine works for a charity organisation providing intervention in early childhood centres where poverty abounds. Her role is to work with these children and their language development.
“These experiences as a Speech Language Therapist lead me to discover that New Zealand has no data on how our young children acquire language, especially in low socioeconomic communities. Without knowledge and data, it is difficult to affect change at higher governmental levels,” she said.
“This prompted me to call on my Mercy background and the Villa motto of Prize What is of Value, and I feel compelled to do more. This year I am studying towards a Master of Science in Child Language Sciences, which includes a thesis on Child Language Development across low socioeconomic communities within New Zealand.”
The PPA Mercy Grant will assist Catherine with her University fees. The desired outcome from her Masters thesis is to shed light on the plight of thousands of young children who are growing up in poverty, and build a detailed data source for government to act upon – therefore creating meaningful change in our society and for the outcomes of our children.
“Being a Mercy woman means not turning away from those who need our help, particularly those close to home, in our own communities, no matter how uncomfortable we might feel. Mercy means helping the invisible become visible and bringing light to those hidden in the shadows.”