Guest Speakers

Strong parents, strong daughters by Katrina Alvir

Understanding Generation N – the “digital natives” who are growing up with the world of the internet at their fingertips and their eyes constantly on screens – was the focus of the first of three workshops for parents conducted by Katrina Alvir, a Sydney teacher. Her 15 years experience teaching and mentoring high school girls and their parents, together with her current post-graduate studies in psychology, made this a dynamic and eye-opening session.

“Screenagers” are more influenced by their peers (“peerance”) than any previous generation, said Katrina, but they need their parents as much as teens ever have. “Warm and strong parenting” will convince them that love and discipline go together.

The teen brain

The task of parents will be much easier if they understand the teen brain, as Katrina explained in a second presentation. Recent research using brain imaging has shown a more protracted and complex development of the brain during adolescence than most of us thought. This continues through the teenage years and the 20s. Parents have to be patient with teens and give them lots of affection and physical warmth while coaching them along the path of mature decision making.

Positive and resilient girls

In an age which has institutionalised adolescence, creating a culture of entitlement among teenagers, parents must raise girls who are “happy realists, not victims,” said Katrina Alvir. This is not impossible because we humans are hardwired for struggle -- the science of positive psychology has shown that people grow in emotional maturity after trauma. The key to cultivating resilience in teens is giving them the sense that they have a parent who really cares about them – and that means listening to them. “To a child love = time,” Katrina explained. And the best lessons are those shown in parents’ own resilience.


The art of friendship

After loving parents, the most important thing in a teenager’s life is having friends. Philosophers, saints and cognitive scientists agree that friendship is an essential ingredient for human happiness. But, Katrina pointed out, it is not the number of friends we have, but how genuine our friendships are that makes a differences to our wellbeing. It was a message that an enthusiastic group of girls obviously took to heart.


The genius of woman: from the inside out

What does it mean to be feminine? This was the question explored in a late October workshop led by Pauline Cooper-Ioelu, an Auckland University academic with a special interest in feminism. Part of the series for high school girls and young women, the workshop touched on the development of ideas about “the feminine” through history.

In contemporary feminism, Pauline pointed out, the idea that women have a specific nature and vocation is often rejected because it appears to “put women in a straightjacket” and limit their “choices”. However, she argued, to acknowledge the “feminine genius”, or nature, actually liberates women to realise the special gifts that go with their capacity to bear children – in particular, sensitivity to persons. Equality of dignity between women and men is perfectly compatible with recognising their different strengths.

A make-up session conducted by Amy Rolleston rounded off the evening. Workshop by the CEO of Allure, Judi Limbers


One of the great needs today is to show girls and young women how to value themselves “from the inside out,” says Judi Limbers, a Sydneysider and fashionista. Judi visited Auckland and Hamilton in mid-September to conduct interactive workshops for different age groups using, a programme created by young women for young women. On display were samples of elegant formal wear from her own label, The Dress Shoppe. 


Beginning with a simple philosophy lesson on the meaning and purpose of beauty, Judi went on to show how qualities such as radiance, harmony and completeness could be seen – or not – in different models and celebrities. Women could present themselves, or be presented, as either subjects or objects, she pointed out. The tendency in fashion and celebrity culture is to objectify women, thus hiding their beauty and exposing them to an unhealthy preoccupation with their body image. Other activities included brainstorming about personal beauty icons and a style personality quiz. 


Those who attended came away enthusiastic and with new ideas about fashion as a form of self-expression.

For more information on the allure workshops visit:

Moral Dilemmas in Medicine
by Dr. Maha George-Haddad


Health professionals and others interested in the ethics of healthcare gathered for an evening talk at Fernhall in June. Dr. Maha George-Haddad, an obstetrician and gynaecologist working at Auckland Hospital, spoke about the moral challenges facing doctors today when contraception, abortion and in vitro fertilisation are taken for granted in public institutions. Pressure from some quarters to legalise euthanasia will only add to the practices that many doctors cannot in conscience agree to, she said.


Dr George-Haddad, who is a Catholic from Iraq, gave examples of situations which arise in her own work, and suggested ways in which Christian and other healthcare workers can make their views known to colleagues. When these are explained in non-confrontational way it often happens that others will agree, she said. The evening concluded with a lively question time. Follow-up sessions for health professionals are planned. 


Interested in more talks related to moral and ethical issues faced today, contact us. 



Work of the Home Seminar, by Dr Anne Zahra 


An evening seminar in February 2015 drew about 20 young women, including mothers, to Fernhall to hear a presentation about the home as the foundation of a healthy society. 


Dr Anne Zahra, an Associate Professor of Tourism and Hospitality Management and the University of Waikato in Hamilton, said that the purpose of the work of the home is to enable members of the family to grow in humanity, so they in turn can make society more human.


“What do we mean by this? That the people carrying out this work are reminded of the dignity of those they are caring for, but also the ones receiving the service feel that their dignity is being recognised. This humanization of persons, of a society, however, is not an automatic process. Time and effort need to be invested to provide the service.”


Dr Zahra said it was more important now than ever to recover a sense of the true meaning and value of relationships in the home. “Every home can improve in some way or another, none is perfect. But we should also look at the bigger picture and realize the great impact this can have on society and culture.”



A short course on freedom and its practical application in everyday life, by Dr Patricia Grant