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.
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.
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.
Many of you may know about my Dad’s health challenges this year or may remember a very personal Thank You Thursday article I wrote a few years ago about his Parkinson’s diagnosis. The kind feedback I received at that time was lovely and I felt so supported. With that in mind, I wanted to honour my Dad once more and share the news that sadly he passed away earlier this month. It’s been a tough month for our close-knit Crocker clan, but we are reminding ourselves of how lucky we were to have him at the helm for as long as we did.
Thank you to those of you who have sent heartfelt condolences over the past few weeks as this news has filtered out. The kind messages and emails have been warmly received. Fish has never been just a job for me, it’s a vehicle that allows me to create positive change and has grown into a little community that I hope is making a difference. It’s provided me with the opportunity to meet many incredible people and work with some amazing charities, and sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming.
My Dad was a good and much-liked business man most of his life and I know he would be just as proud of this business I have created as I am, and that makes me really happy. Thank you for being my inspiration and mentor, with the wisdom and love that you readily shared, Dad. I love you too and will miss you every day.
Just over three and half years after I wrote this original Thank You Thursday article about Shake it Up Foundation, my Dad and his Parkinson’s diagnosis, I have a sad update to share.
Dad lived with Parkinson’s Disease for over five years with reasonably slow progression, but earlier this year he got quite unwell and things rapidly worsened. We were told that it is likely he had Lewy Body’s Dementia, which is a form of Parkinsonism, but also a form of dementia. All of these conditions are challenging to diagnose as they are so closely related and can often be misdiagnosed.
After a few difficult months of increasingly failing health, sadly, we lost our dear Daddy Fish peacefully on the morning of 2nd November 2019.
I’m so very, very sad that he is gone, but feel so very fortunate and proud to have been able to call him my Dad. He will be remembered as an incredible man of great strength, positivity and love for his family.
We’ve established a fundraising page in his memory to fund research into Parkinson’s Disease with the Shake It Up Foundation and I know Dad wouldn’t expect any less from his fundraising gal.
For decades, elephants in Thailand have been forced to work exhausting hours in the logging, trekking and tourism industries. Use of bull hooks and chains, and lack of basic shade or cover from the elements, have all added to the appalling treatment of these gentle creatures.
A couple of months back, I had the pleasure of visiting a small, yet beautiful haven for rescued elephants while on holiday in Koh Samui.
Samui Elephant Sanctuary was established in January early 2018 as the first elephant sanctuary on the island of Koh Samui. The sanctuary offers eight hectares of lush green land for a small group of rescued female elephants. (Elephant bulls require a lot more space, so the decision was made to only keep females here.)
Samui Elephant Sanctuary’s concept of elephant care and welfare is inspired and supported by Lek Chailert, world renowned elephant conservationist, founder of the world-famous Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
Watch this short video of Samui Elephant Sanctuary Founder, Wittaya Sala-Ngam, as he explains why he established the first ethical elephant home on Koh Samui.
Although my experience at Samui Elephant Sanctuary was tinged with sadness as we learnt about the lives of pain and maltreatment these beautiful animals had endured before their arrival there, it was truly heart-warming to see the way the staff team and volunteers care and nurture them. They shared their passion with us as the elephants roamed around the park in their own time, of their own free will; swimming in the purpose-built pool or bathing in the mud pond when they wanted to.
Led by park guides, Ja and But, we met each of the elephants, all between the ages of 46 and 61, who had only started to experience the peace and joy of sanctuary life in their most recent years. We were able to feed and walk with all five of them; Khum Phean, Kaew Ta, Mae Kham Kaew, Kham San and Cartoon, who was the first elephant rescued here and started this sanctuary. A few really loved a little pat.
While the Thai Government prohibited logging in 1989, the increase in tourism and holiday makers looking for an elephant experience over the last thirty years has not really reduced the level of abuse Thai elephants are subjected to.
More education and information for travellers and tourists in recent years is leading to a better understanding of truly ethical elephant parks and those that are not. The decisions we make can directly influence the demand for captive elephants and their treatment as commodoties.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that a number of years ago I rode on an elephant’s back and bathed with them, at what I mistakenly thought was an elephant sanctuary. However, armed with better information and a stronger understanding, I can now make more ethical travel decisions… which is what led me to Samui Elephant Sanctuary.
Personally, I’m disappointed that I had been misled in the past about appropriate elephant-human interaction and that I had not questioned things further. However, as Maya Angelou said, ‘When we know better, we do better‘, and I definitely know better now.
Despite the work happening in today there are still an estimated 4,000 elephants living in terrible situations across Thailand. Saving and providing sanctuary for troubled Thai elephants isn’t cheap work. It can cost up to 1-2 million Thai baht (THB) to rescue an elephant. And these incredible creatures eat 30,000-40,000 THB worth of food every day, including pineapple leaves, bananas and cucumbers.
So today, on Thank You Thursday, I give an elephant-sized shout out to Lek Chailert for paving the way in elephant conservation, Wittaya Sala-Ngam for his passion for founding this beautiful place and all the team and volunteers at Samui Elephant Sanctuary for their love of the creatures in their care.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick.
Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.