Local Volunteers

flickr_SheilaSund_17022017

Volunteer numbers in small country communities is declining. Many clubs have folded as there are not enough people to fill not only executive positions but to come along and be part of the Club, including fundraisers, events and activities. This is a trend across Australia as a whole.

Volunteers can still be found, quietly working within communities. I have come across such people, in my own backyard.

While visiting my mum – who is recently widowed – I enjoyed the company of two astonishing local ladies who regularly check on mum just to make sure all is OK. They live just up the road, but if you are looking for them you will rarely find them at home. You will find them helping others in the local community.

justuptheroad
Just up the road…main entrance to Curlewis

They might be keeping an elderly person company or gently coaching another to take a few steps after an operation, organising a vehicle for a family so they can drive to town for food and appointments or feeding someone else chooks and ducks while they are in hospital. Our community might be small but there is always someone needing assistance. This mother and daughter seem to know who and seem to know when.

Glenda is a trained nurse. Up until a few years ago she had her own business where she would visit people in their homes and care for them. Her daughter Phoebe jokes when we talk about this. Her mum always went over and above what was needed to be done and there were many days she stayed with the client or did that little extra, making her late home for dinner or to help with homework. For Glenda, it wasn’t a 9-5 job.

I asked Glenda “Why do you do it? What motivates you to help people” thinking this was an easy question. She hesitates, sits back in her chair and ponders her answer. “People need help and I can help them. I work with them so we achieve something together. It’s teamwork and gives them back confidence. One small achievement for them helps take away a lot of self-doubt”

There are also other wonderful people supporting this community. A few years ago the local church surveyed the community by door knocking on the 120 residences and asking what people thought the community needed. Not surprising the biggest issue was something for the youth to do. Curlewis is about 17km from its larger country centre Gunnedah, situated in north west NSW about 5 hours inland of Sydney. While many of the youth travel to Gunnedah for high school there are very little other activities to fill their time outside those hours.

Youth drop in

What started as Kids Club through a church has grown. Phoebe and her sister Crystal, with the help of others could see the youth needed not just an activity or two in school holidays but a regular place to go, to mix with others in a safe environment.  With the help of others in the community they have established the Curlewis Youth Drop In Centre. The church has provided them with a building that is decorated with lounges, bean bags and provides a welcoming space one a week.

Over a quiet cup of tea we reflected on why there are less youth offering to volunteer in the community, or regional NSW as a whole. Phoebe has observed that the more willing volunteers are young adults who have lived away from the community and returned or have experienced a life elsewhere. We wondered whether these see the community from a different angle and appreciate the positive aspects rather than being caught in the monotony of their own world. It can be easy to lose perspective and get caught up in the day to day micro happenings of a small town. Becoming independent and living with other cultures and strangers can help people appreciate their own community and potentially bring back newly learned skills and confidence. It will be a challenge to break this cycle. The Youth Drop In Centre is doing this in its own small way.

Each week the centre has 20-30 youth attend. At first the number of adults that came along to help were the same ones that started the centre. Over time others became interested, just helping prepare food or work in the background. Now there is a roster to share the load. The adults enjoy the banter with the youth and vice versa. The young love hearing stories from the elderly volunteers. It’s a win-win.

Many articles highlight the value of volunteering for young people. It looks good on a resume and can help get a scholarship. It also builds teamwork and organisation skills, supervisory or communication skills and confidence with working people outside their home environment.

As a parting question I asked Glenda how does she feel when she has helped someone? What is it like when she sees a glimmer of hope in their eyes and a smile of achievement beaming back at her?

I was expecting emotive words like warm, happy, joyful, proud or delighted. Instead she couldn’t respond; the question was too hard to answer.

Why? Glenda volunteers her time to help others. That is all. No self-gain, no feeding a personal need, no recognition required. The sign of a truly wonderful person who Gives.

 

**Article originally written and published for The Australia Times GIVE Magazine. Publishing here to celebrate International Volunteers Day

Kingdom Moments

We do not remember days, we remember moments. (Cesare Pavese)

I recently travelled to Tonga as part of a joint group with Good Return and Xplore for Success. Twelve women, six days, a thousand memories.

I have already written about first impressions in Mālō e lelei and how I struggled to keep emotions in check during the magnificent Sunday church service. I hope many other memories from the experience will stay with me for a life time.

I know I will continue to support the work of SPBD and Good Return

I will continuethetravellers to be astonished at the work of South Pacific Business Development (SPBD) and the difference they are making to places such as Tonga. I observed the commitment of the staff at SPBD, their passion. They know they are helping making a difference and it shows. I am also thankful for the tolerance of the SPBD staff when 12 career women from Australia arrive on your doorstep full of energy and questions, you were all very patient, courteous and extremely helpful.

I know I will remember the day I visited Tongatapu.

While I enjoy the luxury of my home I hope I remember the experience of arriving in the poor area of Tongatapu and the realisation that I am seeing people’s homes, lying below sea level amidst salty swamplands,  their yards  awash with fetid waters that seep in from the surrounding seas. Images quickly take me back the overpowering putrescent smells that hung in the air as we visited homes and listened to the women tell their stories.

As I flick on a light switch I hope I will remember the tears that rolled down her cheeks as she told us that the loans had helped her put on electricity in her home. As I jump into my new car I hope I remember the many hours of work over five years of another to save to buy a car to take her children to school. As I continue to support my own children through their university I hope I remember the 23 year old making handicrafts and baking to earn an income for her own education with the desire of a better standard of life for her children.

I hope the feeling of vulnerability in seeing, smelling, feeling the effects of Climate Change with my own senses, not just reading about it in news grabs will remain with me, as well as the small glimmer of hope at the mangrove reclamation area – one day this land will improve. I know future news items will stir the feeling of helplessness as I looked out to sea and pictured what it would be like if a tsunami was to land on these shores and its people.

I know I will always remember the people I met in the short time I spent in Tonga.

I will always…always remember the joy in a Tongan smile, how it is contagious and welcoming.

I was privileged to see and feel the pride shown by the clients when they shared with us stories about their businesses. It was heartwarming to listen the stories of how the microloans being provided by SPBD and Good Return are improving their lives, from providing food for their families, clothing, education, electricity, even a car to take children to school. I was surprised to see the small entrepreneur spirit of many who use the intermittent internet to sell their wares across the world.

Many will hold a special place in my memoday1_visit_bakersries.

The bakers, the mother who passes on her recipes to her daughter by showing.

 

 

The seamstress who makes traditional clothing that Tongans still wear with pride to church and other special occasions.

 

The weavers who will sit for days to make masterpieces from pandanus grass, from floor mats to the traditional taʻovala. Or others that will make intricate pieces to form kie kie that many people still wear daily.

The fisherman wives, who will pray each day for their husband’s safe return from the seas and who will then work long hours packing the haul for market.

The farmer’s wife and daughter who work side by side the husband and father to harvest tapioca and yams to sell at market.

selling_tapa

When I close my eyes I can see the image of women drying and pounding the tapa from thin leaf to broad sheets to sell at market. I can hear the sound of the rhythmic whacking ringing in the village air during the midday hours.

 

I hope I will be able to remember…

being immersed into Tongan life. I am grateful tdance2o be invited into their homes, their church, their lives for a small glimpse of Tonga and its people. Their music mixed with the softness of the Tongan expression and laughter of its people still ring in my ears and flows through my soul.

 

I know I will return to Tonga

You have created a special place in my heart

 

tonga_redshell

 

 

Stopped

Accident: an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap

She had a productive day. It was Sunday and she had made the radical decision that instead of doing the house work she would indulge in her new hobby. The housework would wait for another day, why not leave it! Feeling a little like a girl skipping school she lost herself in absolute contentment. She redesigned her blossoming web page and blog, took some photos and dabbled in her new photo editing software.

parkbench

She was so engrossed in creativity she didn’t realise a storm was building outside…and she had dry washing on the clothes line. Without hesitating she raced outside, down the five stairs and across her backyard towards the clothes line as the stormy winds started to thrash her clean clothes like dancing puppets.

She didn’t make it to the puppets on the line.

Her life came to a stop.

Suddenly.

Her foot found a small divet in the yard, she lost her balance and the cracking sound echoed in her ears as she tumbled to the ground.

“No, no, no!” she screamed as people came to her aid and whisked her to hospital emergency. The pain was debilitating, the realization of what she had done dawning on her as she waited to be see a doctor and xray. She didn’t have time for this accident. Her ankle cannot be broken.

Self reliant: Relying on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others

She was powerless. While others may have embraced crutches she couldn’t, it was not natural. Everything required careful planning and time, so much time. A simple shower took nearly an hour, moving from bedroom to lounge took minutes rather than seconds.

She had to learn to rely on others for bathing, food, even a simple requests for a glass of water. This was hard for her to do. “The problem is you are so self-reliant” a close friend sympathised. She had never viewed this as a problem before.crutches

She left the house only for medical appointments, even these were tiring and filled her with dread.

There were tears. Confidence turned to fear.

Who was this woman she saw in the mirror? Dark clouds descended into her thoughts

Perspective: A particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; True understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion

Stairs became a barrier, distance a calculation. She developed a new perspective on the ease or difficulty of what before that day had seemed normal tasks.

Her orthopedic surgeon had a ramp to his consulting rooms – it was about 500m long. It took her 3 rest stops on her crutches to get to the door. The door was heavy to open. She had to knock and wait for someone to open for her.

Her own doctors rooms required a step up, about a 400m hop to the door. Another long walk to his room at the end of a long hall…and back again.

The chemist had an automatic door, but the service desk was at the back of the shop – another long distance to someone who was tired, uncertain, feeble.

canstockphoto3848293

Before the accident none of these places were considered difficult places to attend. Her perspective on ‘disabled access’ changed. These places ticked the requirements of the law, but are they really accessible?

 

She did not attempt anywhere else. Her mind could not work with her, her body was too tired to try.

 

Even her own work location – single floor, a ramp…she could go to work?

No.

The ramp at the back door is too steep for crutches. The toilet door too heavy to open with crutches. The hall too long to negotiate up to ten times a day. She would not be able to make a simple cup of coffee herself. No, work is not ‘disability friendly’.

She set up a home office and could still function and do her work. Her team was busy, they had lots to do. At first this was a sense of achievement but as the days became weeks her anger grew –

“Cant you just let me be miserable in peace? I am tired of looking like I’m managing ok, of the pressure of work. I’m tired of everything” she cried into her pillow one morning, another day ahead of trying hard, of coping, of relying on others for help.

Thankful: Expressing gratitude and relief

Despite these dark thoughts she knew she was lucky. She fought the dark clouds with expressions of thankfulness to try to get through this unexpected halt to life.

Thankful this occurred in Australia where the health system could treat her quickly and provide her with high quality care.

Thankful she lived in a small country town. It was hard enough to negotiate places, the city would have worse with parking, longer walks, busy streets.

Thankful that her aging mother supported, cared, did anything and evergetwellsoonything despite her own body failing her.

Thankful her daughter came home from travels at the top end of Australia to be a carer, supporter, chauffeur, shopper, cook, companion, nurse. Thankful to her other daughters who helped when they journeyed home for short weekends – the housework she left THAT day was finally done weeks later.

Thankful to work colleagues who were ever so patient, genuinely caring and sympathetic.

Thankful to wonderful  friends who offered to help, cook, clean, bring her news about whats happening in the world beyond her home.

Thankful this situation was for just a short time. Others have injuries, pain and disabilities that are permanent and life long.

Healing: The process of making or becoming sound or healthy again; mending

autumnleavesAs the autumn leaves fell from branches, as the days became shorter and the winter cold settled across the land her body healed.

As the countryside painted green, fresh after cleansing welcome rain her resolve brightened.

Her bones mended, her crutches stayed in the corner, her muscles started to recover.

She fought the anxiety that washed over her as she left her home which had been her comfort and safe haven for 6 weeks.

 

She had to find the strength and courage to enter the world again.

It took time, a few false starts, small tentative outings to gain back confidence and independence.

Last Sunday she sent a message to a friend “Just did my first Downward Dog in nearly 3 months, you would not believe how good that feels”

She was healing, inside and out.

Fight Song: Rachael Platten

Ten weeks, 70 days.

Life stopped. She survived.

One could find lots of words of wisdom as to why this happened, learnings, words from another world, inspirations…but for now every morning she simply plays a song that reminds her the healing continues, and get on with what you were doing before the ‘accident’. She has a trip to Tonga in six weeks and she isn’t missing that.

This is my fight song

Take back my life song

Prove I’m alright song

My power’s turned on

Starting right now I’ll be strong

I’ll play my fight song

And I don’t really care if nobody else believes

‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

Thank you Rachael Platten. Thank you family, friends, medical teams, work colleagues.

Brown eyes

And there she was. She had arrived. I had mixed emotions that day, excited to meet her but overcome with the work ahead. I was already feeling that unrelenting fatigue that comes with being a mother of several toddlers. I now had another.

And then we saw them. Those brown eyes, deep pools of mesmerizing chocolate coloured eyes. She had us wrapped around her little finger from that moment.

 

Our family was complete, except for the two dogs that came later.

As I flipped through photos from the next five years so much seems a blur. Three children under four years of age can do that to a person. The routine of life had its ebbs and flows, its happy moments, its dark times. But we made it through.

Our brown eyed baby had to survive two bigger sisters. I used to put her in a jolly jumper in the living area so she was part of the action until I came across her two sisters swinging, quite high while she laughed and giggled. I packed the jumper away after that.

One other day I met her sisters carrying her down the hallway, having dragged her from her cot – “She was awake mum”, though I’m still not convinced she was. Her sisters persuaded her that the bigger the coins the more they were worth so she swapped all her 2 dollars coins with her sisters 50 cents. They played with her mind by covering all the photos of her in the house and convincing her she didn’t exist.

I went to work when she was just a toddler, my husband stayed home to be a house husband and look after the three girls. This worked well most of the time. I did come home one summers day  to find her being hosed in the back yard as she had soiled her nappy and this seemed the quickest and easiest way for my husband to clean her up

withdad065
 

With her dad, a special bond growing up

 

Her father only has one working arm, a victim of polio. So I should not have been surprised to arrive home to see the girls tying their shoes with one hand and their teeth, as dad had done.  She formed a wonderful relationship with her dad, especially after her older sisters went off to school. She learnt to fish (one handed) and developed a lifelong love of fishing, especially after catching ‘the big one’ when she was ten.

Like all my girls their grandparents farm created so many happy times, especially times with cousins. She formed a unique bond with my mother through cooking , first starting with licking the bowl and then helping with the stirring to being able to completely cook a cake for herself. Like her grandmother she now uses cooking as a stress relief. Through her teens years I would arrive home to a kitchen that looked like a bomb site – flour and sugar strewn over the floor and bench, measuring cups laying haphazardly across the bench, sink full of every mixing bowl we own.

“Bad day at school today?” I would ask

“Yes, how did you know?”

“Oh, just guessed”, the mess in the kitchen didn’t provide me any clues!

She is a confident unique individual. I am not sure whether growing up in the shadows of two older sisters bought this out in her, or whether it is just in her genes. She dressed herself from an early age – some of the photos showed just how individual her dress sense was. She decided another day she no longer wanted a fringe in her hair, so cut it off resulting in a lovely little row of fluff across the top of her forehead. She tried makeup. She rocked the easter bunny outfit at school, really played the character of a clown when she dressed up for a school social. She went through a onesie stage, her collection growing to over 7 different outfits and she confidently wore them to parties, school events and other public places.

This youngest girl of mine showed her wonderful caring nature very early. As a toddler she would regularly have a cup of tea with her grandparents and get all the gossip of the latest operations, complaints and deaths, which she would relay to me when she arrived home. This included telling me that “Uncle Fred died last night mum, he went to sleep and just didn’t wake up”. The thought of this captivated her for some time.

When I used to ask how was preschool I would get a report of everyone’s ailments, by the time she went to school I would get an update on who was away each day, like a mother hen doing the daily report of her brood.

She has also had a fascination with death and body functions. She is always willing to dig out a burr or a splinter, squeeze a pimple, examine a wound – the things that make many people queezy at the thought.

Year 10 students are required to do two weeks work experience to help them plan for their future career. I was surprised to learn this baby of mine has selected two weeks working in an aged care facility. Any doubts I had were quickly washed away. She had found her calling.

She cared for these wonderful older members of the community with such tenderness and gentleness, and still does to this day. She can remain calm in a stressful, highly tense situation keeping her head and showing a maturity well beyond her years. At times it is hard to believe that she is my daughter. I feel so much pride for her and the woman she has become.

EPSON MFP image
The day she got her school captain badge – with one her most influential teachers Miss Hodge

 

I see a great leader in this girl. She earnt the award of school captain for her primary school and set the example for the school – showing a willingness to assist teachers and be a voice for children that could not be heard. She participated in many sports, setting the example to other students and showed a mature leadership on the sporting field as well.

 

This carried over to home, especially willing to help her grandparents, more so today than ever. Being school captain of her high school allowed her leadership qualities to mature even more and I see her taking these experiences to her workplaces and her university life.

 

My crystal ball for this bright, delightful, compassionate young lady shows me sunshine and many successes. I know she will make her mark in nursing and attention to others – her leadership and caring nature show me this already.

My advice to her is to listen to your heart, advocate for yourself, be confident on the outside even if you aren’t on the inside. You can do it, you just need to believe in yourself.

My wish for Bonnie, my brown eyed baby who came into this world 21 years ago today is for every happiness. You have bought joy to our lives, your smile brightens every day, your honesty (i.e. bluntness!) is refreshing.

Live long, live well, live happy my Bonnie. Happy 21st birthday.

A woman’s perspective

canstockphoto22887061

The day recognising gender equality, International Womens Day or IWD was celebrated this last week. I happen to be in the city for celebrations, including watching a debate titled “Who needs feminism anyway”. It provided some great points from both sides of argument, I was agreeing and nodding throughout.

Females, particularly younger women working in 2016 are enjoying the work of the feminist movement of last century. Have we made progress? Yes. Read More

There is no cure

From the day she was born she demanded our attention. As first time parents we didn’t just ease into parenthood, we were rocketed. She was impatient to feed, and content with short bursts of nutrition rather than the regular 3 or 4 hour feed rotation. She would not sleep for long, day or night.

I remember when I was younger I used to set my alarm to watch the sunrise as it was rare for me to be awake at that hour. I feel I have now seen enough sunrises to last me a life time. Read More

Our patchwork home

patchwork_quilt

When I turned 40 my aunt hand made a patchwork quilt. It is a cherished gift. The unique creation has pride and place in my bedroom. I appreciate the patience to make a quilt such as this – cutting the shapes perfectly and sewing straight lines so the shapes look symmetrical and fit together. It is an impeccable work of art, the artist knowing what colours and patterns work together, having a long term vision of the end product and scrutinizing the creation as it slowly comes together with every additional piece and stitch.

I have utmost respect for that perseverance, skill and care. Read More