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Sr Christine Henry: 10 years of Downs and West Community Support

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 Ten years ago, Sister of Charity Christine Henry started a fundraising campaign for farmers crippled by the worst drought in a century.

“A lot of people had to walk off their land. It was devastating,” said Sr Christine, whose country and city supporters came together early in September to acknowledge the significant work of the Sisters of Charity in supporting rural communities.

(Country and City supporters  gathered at St Finbarr’s Hall, Betheden Tce, Ashgrove on September 2, at 10.30am. Donors and volunteers, those who organised fund raising events were thanked and received certificates to acknowledge their significant contributions.)

“We could see on the faces of people they had nothing to fall back on. It takes years to recover.”

As the co-ordinator of the Downs and West Community Support, Sr Christine started serving farming communities across the Darling Downs, the Burnett, the Lockyer Valley and south-west Queensland.

As a woman raised in the tiny Darling Downs community of Allora, she knew exactly what was needed – food hampers, petrol vouchers, and support paying household bills.

Sometimes volunteers were called in to help families with household cleaning and upkeep – a backyard blitz, mini renovations, a new front gate, furniture, and even a new tyre for a tractor.

All were gratefully received within farming communities which, after the 2007 drought, were hit by seasons of failed crops.

By 2009, Sr Christine, a registered nurse, could see the need was so great that the Sisters of Charity service needed to continue to provide household hampers and pastoral support. She witnessed farm communities collapsing and in dire need and spent hours and days with families enduring their working stress and anxiety as livestock were culled and businesses failed.

It was a time when the suicide rate rose amongst all ages, and particularly men.

“The prolonged drought was the last straw for many. And then in 2011 and 2013 they were hit really badly by the floods,” Sr Christine said.

She reached out for more donors and volunteers, and new and innovative ways to raise funds.

She became a conduit between city and country – and support snowballed.

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To city folk, Sr Christine has become known as the “Nun in the Bush” and the list of fundraising drives, workshops, camps and programs is impressive.

“The first event we held was called a Country Girls’ Day Out, which then became known as Wellness Days for Country Women,” she said.

“We responded to a request from a group of women in Crows Nest, and from there we thought it might be a good idea to offer these events in other areas.”

Wellness Days are a chance for often-isolated country women to come together.

Women’s health issues are given priority because so often the women are holding the families together, but their own needs are neglected.

Wellness Days often include psychology and motivational talks and access to pap smears and mammograms, while massage and reflexology are offered.

Generous household hampers and toiletry packs are given away as lucky-door prizes.

In the past decade, more than 5000 women have attended Wellness Days in 100 locations across the Downs, the Burnett and south-west Queensland.

Five-thousand household hampers have been given away at an estimated value of more than $1 million.

“Bugger the Drought”, focusing on men and families, is the name of another set of social events that has been organised by Downs and West Community Support.

Sr Christine estimates she has driven a million kilometres during a decade of service through her pastoral work and visits.

She drives a station wagon provided by St Vincent’s Health Australia, Queensland.

A second vehicle, a decommissioned ambulance, allows her to transport and distribute food and furniture to isolated families.

Often on her trips, Sr Christine is accompanied by a toy poodle named Kenya. “She’s an icebreaker,” she said.

“If  I meet someone for the first time, they will notice Kenya before they notice me.

“They will bend down and pat her, and then start talking about their own animals, and they start to open up about how they are feeling inside.”

Sr Christine , who completed her novitiate in Sydney in 1976, said she drew inspiration from the people she met – and that kept her mission alive.

“(It’s) the love of the people and to see a smile on their face when we arrive,” she said.

“Being able to give people an encouraging word or a hug means so much to them.

“They give so much more to me than I give to them.”

Sr Christine said outback Queensland was undergoing massive change.

“Since the prolonged drought and the floods the landscape has changed dramatically,” she said.

“Rivers have changed their courses, small townships are like ghost towns.

“The mines, coal seam gas, and climate change are having a dramatic impact on our land as well.

“I think at the moment every farmer needs a family that will get behind them, support them and encourage them – so they can produce quality food that we can enjoy.”

 

Donations to support farming communities in need can be made online by visiting www.downsandwestcommunitysupport.org.

  • By Mark Bowling for The Catholic Leader

(This story  ‘Nun in the Bush’ helps farming communities collapsing under drought get back on their feet is reprinted from The Catholic Leader with permission.)

Main image: Rebuilding lives: Sister of Charity Christine Henry visiting a family from the bush as part of her role as co-ordinator of the Sisters of Charity’s Downs and West Community Support

Second Image: Sr Christine and her toy poodle, Lady Kenya

Third image: Bush project – Downs and West Community Support volunteers offer a helping hand for people doing it tough in the bush.

Appendix: Statistics for 10 years of Downs and West Community Support

Number of kilometres driven
• Nearly a million kilometres
• Two vehicles – one a reconditioned Ambulance the other, Ford station wagon provided by St Vincent’s Health, Australia

Dragonfly Health and Wellness – 3 day Retreat
• 6 x 3 days retreat
• 281 country women
• 1,280 volunteer hours

Country Girls’ Days Out/Wellness Days for Country Women
113 days offered in 100 different locations of the Downs, the Burnett and south west Queensland
• 5,258 country women
• 4,221 volunteer hours

Creative Workshops for Country Women
• 3 days in different locations
• 65 country women
• 40 volunteer hours

Retired Farmers Christmas Dinner
• 17 Christmas celebrations
• 318 retired farmers and farm labourers
• 114 volunteer hours

“Bugger the Drought” for farming and other rural families. This event was named by people experiencing the prolonged drought
• 6 events in 6 different locations
• 368 families = 637 adults and 180 children, 16 years and under
• 980 volunteer hours

Adult/Family Health and Education Conferences

10 adults and 3 children were sponsored

Provided “Back to school” needs
191 primary school children from attending 4 different schools.

Organised Country to City Children’s Camp (25 went to the Gold Coast and 25 went to the Sunshine Coast)
• 50 primary aged country kids from 2 schools of the Downs
• 45 secondary school students
• 760 volunteer hours.

Organised Fun Days for country kids
• 3 days 4hours for younger children and 4 hours for 12-16 year olds
• 156 children and teenagers
• 100 volunteer hours

Life and Health Education Programme
835 primary school children were sponsored to attend the programme.
• $12,572.50

Household Hampers distributed:
• 5,052 hampers distributed @ $200-$250 each
• $1,032,784.00 = more than 1 million dollars

Magazines in pristine condition:
• 15,954 magazines were distributed these included Better Homes and GardensTractorThe Australian Women’s Weekly

Sunny Queen Eggs
• Donated 1,430 dozen eggs = 17,160 eggs

Volunteer Hours
• 11,753 hours of compassionate service

THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
When we have so much to praise the Lord for, we must not complain.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
True affection is to rejoice in the happiness of our dear ones. Never allow a sentiment of resentment to enter into our hearts.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Pray, reflect and consult – and may the divine spirit direct all to God’s greater glory.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
May our dear Lord Jesus fill your hearts with His own love. Amen!
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
We must have patience with others as He has patience with us.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Under every difficulty try to pray fervently.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
We have much to thank Him for, even for those little drawbacks on our comforts and conveniences.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Do pray that justice may be accomplished in peace and that truth may prevail.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
Go on now as steadily as you can, relying on the Divine assistance and fear not.
THE WISDOM OF MARY AIKENHEAD
What we do ought to be done well.

The Sisters of Charity acknowledge the First Peoples and traditional custodians of this land where we live. We respect, value and honour their history, culture and spirituality. We are committed to standing in solidarity and to actively working for justice, peace and harmony in this land.

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