Published On: 11 January 2024Categories: Stories

Husband-and-wife chaplaincy team, Michael and Rhona Hamon, are proving to be a dynamic duo in two local schools.

With more than two decades’ connection to Ulverstone, Michael, a former teacher with counselling qualifications, and Rhona, with many years of experience as a theatre and community nurse, are having a positive impact at East Ulverstone and West Ulverstone Primary Schools.

As parents of two school children, they say their complementary skills help in the myriad of issues facing students, parents, and teachers.

Michael, who is legally blind, taught some parents of current students and supervised past East Ulverstone Primary principal Simon Dent during one of his teaching placements in the 90’s. Simon is now principal at Ulverstone Secondary College.

Michael worked as an emergency relief worker with the Salvation Army for many years after his failing eyesight from a degenerative condition led to the end of his teaching career.

“I hope we come with some credibility,” Michael said.

Heart and head

“Rhona is the heart, motherly and compassionate, while I’m more pragmatic and solution-oriented and teacherish.”

In 2020 the couple had just returned from a year-long trip in the UK when their pastor from Life Church at Ulverstone suggested to Rhona they consider chaplaincy.

“I was contemplating a new part time nursing contract when the chaplaincy job came up,” Rhona said.

“I thought it was more of a younger person’s role even though over the previous decade I had thought about becoming a hospital chaplain.”

They met with Devonport Chaplaincy CEO Andrew Hillier who said the long-term goal was to have male and female chaplains in every school.

“This was reassuring because I hadn’t wanted to be seen as some sort of charity case to be tolerated because of my blindness,” Michael said.

Blindness a source of curiosity

He admits his blindness is a source of fascination for the students.

“I have to learn to identify the students by their voice which I mostly get right,” he said.

“Some students are very protective, others will ask questions, and some will use my blindness as a source of fun and practical joking.”

“I can’t play football, but I can still kick a ball, although I have no idea where it’s gone.”

Michael is one of only two males in the school teaching community at East Ulverstone.

He’s known for greeting parents and children when they arrive at school at East Ulverstone, and for randomly handing out Mentos as an encouragement or reward.

Rhona said she loved nursing, but was pleased to be working with a younger cohort who had so much of their lives to live.

“I loved working with the older generation in community nursing, but there is something profound about making a difference in children’s lives compared with grown-ups,” she said.

“They have a future way beyond mine, and that’s very humbling and a big responsibility.”

Rhona said a school community wellbeing survey process had highlighted the diversity of issues affecting children.

“The things that concern young people range from family breakdown and bullying, friendship issues and social media, to struggles with self-esteem,” she said.

Children should be seen and heard

“Children are all so different, yet each one wants to be seen and heard and valued.”

Rhona said school breakfast programs and crisis food hampers through Devonport Chaplaincy’s sister organisation, Loaves and Fishes Tasmania, were having a huge impact on families.

“It’s not just the food. I’ve been able to personally deliver many hampers to various families at their homes to build relationships and connections and be seen as part of the community,” she said.

Both Michael and Rhona have worked at East Ulverstone Primary School since the end of 2020, while Rhona added two days a week at West Ulverstone from the end of first term this year.  Ironically, this was where Michael worked for his last seven years of teaching.  He was involved in the planting of a beautiful tree which now dominates the school courtyard there.

“The principal at West Ulverstone asked me how long I planned on staying because the children needed stability,” she said.

“I told her that I had let my nursing registration lapse and I intended to finish my working life in this position.”

They say the broad nature of the chaplaincy role is its most challenging aspect.

Principal of West Ulverstone Primary School, Sarah Crawford, said:

“Chaplaincy is something the community of West Ulverstone cherish. Rhona has stepped into the role perfectly, a job she has done with respect after taking over the role from Leanne Jepson, who held the role for years.

“She has developed solid relationships with our students who regularly ask if it is her day working or not. They love the programs she has set up with cooking and chess and also just love the opportunity to talk with her about life.

“Our families also appreciate her smiling face and value her knowledge, understanding and compassion. Rhona’s role in our school is highly valued.”

Principal at East Ulverstone Primary School, Jess Batten, said: “Rhona and Michael are a warm and welcome addition to the team at East Ulverstone Primary School. Children seek them out for support, friendship and fun. A highlight is seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as Michael ‘tops up the petrol’ on their bikes in Kinder, or as they join in Rhona’s lunchtime games sessions.”

By Paul O’Rourke

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