When hairdresser Selina Tomasich was holidaying in the Philippines back in 2010, she had a conversation with Sisters working with abandoned children on the streets of Manila whose parents were too poor to feed them. The Sisters took the children to a secure location to help in their physical, spiritual and medical needs, hoping to return them to their parents who were usually living in slums or on the streets themselves. What the parents really needed, said the Sisters, was a new skill that they could turn into a job. When Selina asked, what skill they taught the Sisters said, “Oh, we’re no good at that part, but our dream is to start a sewing centre.”
School life is challenging enough for some students, and with today’s changing family circumstances, cultural differences, socio-economic disadvantages and social media, many more students are struggling. Literacy and numeracy are must-have basic skills to help us get through everyday life.
Beginning in Western Australia in 1996, The School Volunteer Program started up and operated for over 20 years. It expanded across the states to Victoria and New South Wales under different names. However, in 2015 it had a rebrand and is now known as EdConnect.
About half a million Australians have an intellectual disability and many are children. There are obvious challenges faced by these children and regrettably, not all children with an intellectual disability or Autism are able to obtain Government funding or NDIS assistance.
This month an amazing young woman named Keeley is turning sixteen. Keeley has an intellectual disability and Autism herself and is making an incredible difference in the lives of other children and young people facing similar challenges.
In her early teens, Keeley had depression and anxiety as a result of her Autism and the recent diagnosis of an intellectual disability. She was unable to comprehend information at school using the current teaching models available and struggled to do basic math. Keeley experienced first-hand the isolation this disadvantage caused her.
If I’m given work on paper, I get overwhelmed. Put that same test on an iPad I get them all right. Go figure!
A simple iPad can make a big difference for such kids. An iPad can help to provide an individual learning plan and creates a voice for the non-verbal who cannot communicate. It can lessen the effects of anxiety and depression by allowing them to be educated and interact with technology they truly understand. An iPad has the power to change the lives of these children by improving their self-esteem and self-worth.
Keeley believed that “despite our disabilities we all have a right to education and dreams”.
In 2017 Keeley created a charity – Keeley’s Cause – to ensure other children like her could get access to the iPads they needed.
“If iPads are what we need to help us learn, then iPads are what we are going to get. No one should have to go through what I am going through, or feel how I am feeling now.”
Keeley’s Cause helps low income families and parents on disability/carers payment to obtain an iPad through fundraising, sausage sizzles, merchandise, iPad sponsorships and donations. They assist as many children as they possibly can and, so far, Keeley has presented more than 76 iPads within Victoria, Sydney and Queensland. She has also personally raised close to $50,000.
Keeley named her charity herself and even designed the logo. As a Cub of her local Lions Club she approached them for help and they have taken Keeley’s Cause on as their project.
Keeley is now attending a Specialist School and kicking lots of goals, including some recent achievements. Last year she won the Moorabool Youth Award for contributing to ‘Improving Outcomes for young people with A Disability’. She was also a semi-finalist in two categories for the Victorian Young Achievers for the following both the Community Service and Social Impact Award and the Regional and Rural Health Achievers Award.
Keeley is an exceptional young woman and this Thank You Thursday we not only wish her a wonderful 16th birthday but we say thank you to her for her kindness, generosity and incredible work to support other children and young people.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick.
Looking back towards the end of last year, and the beginning of this year we still cannot forget those devastating fires that swept through parts of Australia. Last month we featured a story about one organisation working in the Gippsland region of Victoria, but because this has had such a huge impact on so many Australians we wanted to share another story of hope.
One of the more tragic of the fires was the blaze that burnt 210,000 hectares – or almost half of Kangaroo Island, and also sadly killed two people. Of 60,000 koalas all in good health living on the island, it is estimated that 30,000 perished. This remaining group of koalas are important to the endurance of the species as the Chlamydia disease is not present amongst them, unlike all populations on the mainland. Grave fears are held for the survival of some of the island’s vulnerable species such as the Dunnart, Black Glossy Cockatoo and the Ligurian Honey Bees.
After the fire had passed through, animal welfare groups were given permission to enter the blackened area. Those volunteers were absolutely taken aback at the traumatised wildlife that sat around in groups together. The survivors had no energy and seemed to have shut down. That was when South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) stepped in to help.
SAVEM, an organisation of 100% volunteers from all walks of life, has an undertaking to assess, triage, shelter, treat and re-unite owners with their animals; while also trying to rehabilitate wildlife to be returned to their natural habitats. Veterinarians and veterinary nurses volunteer their specialised skills to help heal these sick animals back to health.
The SAVEM Plan has allowed vets to respond to any emergency in South Australia involving companion animals, wildlife and livestock. Even though Primary Industries and Regions SA has the lead response for livestock including horses, SAVEM is a multispecies organisation that will assist if requested for large animal incidents.
The origins of this organisation date back to February 2009 in Victoria’s Black Saturday fire. South Australia’s support to Victoria at that time, and the absence of a Plan for veterinary emergency management in SA, SAVEM was formed to make sure that when the next emergency occurred, the veterinary community in South Australia would be prepared.
An important part of the work of SAVEM extends past the initial crisis when fires are burning. Even into early February, the team have checked several sites that have required a revisit, and found wallabies, kangaroos, koalas and birds in need of assistance.
Their work now is about helping in the transition to recovery, where processes are handed back to locals. The organisation will maintain a presence on the Island until they are no longer actively needed and are committed to assisting the Island during the tough recovery years ahead.
This Thank You Thursday we say thanks to the volunteers of SAVEM for their dedication to supporting Kangaroo Island communities and animals affected by the bushfires.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick.
Since Christmas or even just before, parts of Australia have been, and in some parts still is being ravaged by horrific bushfires. As Australians we are used to living alongside these dangers, however this year has proved to be particularly shattering and injurious both to human life and wildlife.
Victoria has recently witnessed a most overwhelming, vast and engulfing fire in the Gippsland area. Gippsland is an exquisite agricultural region located along the South Eastern coast. With snowfields for those of us who prefer it cooler, to pristine forests, unspoilt beaches, and much more for tourists.
Unfortunately, most of these places have gone up in flames and now the residents who rely on heavily on farming or tourism are in despair and wondering, ‘Where do we go from here?’.
Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund (GERF) is a small, unique community organisation that has been around for over 40 years and is one organisation in a sea of many supporting bushfire affected families.
Established in 1978, it is funded by donations from businesses, community groups and even individuals. All of those donations are returned to the community and no costs are deducted as the charity is run by volunteers.
Residents residing in the Gippsland areas of Bass Coast, South and East Gippsland, Latrobe, Baw Baw and Wellington who suffer loss or hardship as a result of bushfire, floods and any other acts of nature that affect their principal place of residence are given assistance.
Funding focuses on personal losses such as food, shelter, clothing, bedding and children’s educational needs, as distinct from capital items more often covered by government grants or insurances.
When an emergency event happens a field assessment team gathers data and then relays it to the Council Operations Centre, which works closely with GERF. The Committee of Management has the responsibility and final decision on distribution of funds. Any surplus is held by the fund for future relief in the above regions.
Since the dramatic and highly publicised bushfires began in Mallacoota on New Years Eve, the Fund has raised over $3.8m and have approved more than 900 referrals from community members who’ve either lost their homes or experienced severe property damage.
So this Thank You Thursday, we say thank you to the volunteer team behind GERF and all those in the community that have supported this fund. Wishing the communities of Gippsland strength and positivity as they recover and rebuild.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick
* Images sourced from Gippsland Times *
Plastic bags… a convenient invention without foresight at the time, and now we are facing a huge hurdle not only with our waste matter; but what to do with the millions of plastic bags across the entire planet. This has been particularly a problem on the small island of Bali, where there is about 1.6 million tonnes of waste each year and 303,000 tonnes of that waste is plastic. 33,000 tonnes of this plastic leaks into Bali’s waterways causing pollution and health problems.
On June 23 this year Bali became the first Indonesian province to ban all single-use plastic bags, polystyrene and even straws, in a move that environmentalists are hoping will have a domino effect across all of Indonesia. Most of Bali’s residents are now willing to sort their waste and make a real effort to reduce, reuse or recycle. Much of the credit for this dramatic change has to go to sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen.
When these two young girls were just 10 and 12 years of age they were learning about impactful world leaders and change-makers, such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Lady Diana. They started thinking how could they, as ‘just kids’ make a difference? Playing in rice fields, walking along the road or beaches they noticed just how plastic bags had clogged up gutters and rivers. It was soon after that they founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags (BBPB), an organisation driven by youth to say NO to plastic bags.
In a bid to get their local government’s attention they took up a petition gaining permission to collect over 100,000 signatures behind customs and immigration at Bali Airport. However, Governor Mangku Pastika was unimpressed and ignored a request to meet the two sisters. What were they to do? Visiting Mahatma Ghandi’s house and under strict supervision of a dietitian, the girls went on a hunger strike from sunrise to sunset. It worked!
24 hours later, escorted by police officers, Melati and Isabel found themselves in front of the Governor signing a Memorandum of Understanding to help Balinese people say no to plastic bags by January 2018.
BBPB raises awareness and educates about the harmful impact of plastic on our environment, animals and health while also sharing how to be part of the solution. The girls have had many successes since such as:
- Bali’s biggest beach clean-up – with 12,000 volunteers of many different nationalities.
- The Indonesian Government pledging its part by the year 2025 to reduce plastic pollution by 70%.
- A starter kit and book developed to guide young people through the process of ‘How to Start a Movement’.
- Mountain Mamas – a social enterprise initiated by BBPB for local women giving them skills to produce alternative bags made from donated recycled material. 50% of profits goes back to the work of BBPB and 50% of the profit goes back to the village to be used for three key elements: waste management, education and health.
It has taken the sisters five years to get to this point but they have proven that ‘YOU are the ONE person who can start to make a change’. Melati and Isabel have been on an incredible journey since starting this movement, taking them around the world, including London and New York where they made an appearance at the United Nations. Their vision has inspired thousands and is really making a difference in our world.
This Thank You Thursday, we say thanks to Melati and Isabel, the Indonesian government for sitting up and listening to their youth and the BBPB teams all across the globe.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick.