Future of hope
SOMETIMES life doesn't work out the way you planned. Sometimes it leads you in a beautiful direction you never could have imagined.
That sentiment is true for Emerald local Tamara Walker, founder of not-for-profit charity, Twenty9Eleven Ministries.
The charity, which began in 2008, focuses on fundraising and supporting AIDS orphans in Udon Thani, Thailand.
Mrs Walker said the idea for the charity originated the year before, during her first time overseas on a mission trip with OPSM to Thailand.
"We did eye tests and provided glasses and sunglasses to 28,000 people in eight days,” she said. "It was literally a life changing experience.
"Some of our specs were the recycled ones provided by Lions Clubs around the world.
"It was on this mission trip that I met Heather and Theun, a lovely older couple who had moved from Australia to live in Thailand so they could be more involved with the Lions Education Fund for Orphans program.
"Once I heard about the kids, I wanted to be involved. I didn't have an epiphany, no big neon light in the sky.
"I thought that because I have an eight seater dinner table, maybe I could have regular dinners and invite my friends or virtual strangers who would later become friends. And that's where it all began.
"Monthly dinners with different groups of people, and each person would bring $15. The combined money from eight people raised $120 per dinner and that money would put a child through school for an entire year.
"Once everyone arrived we would order Thai take-away, and I would share about the child that we were sponsoring for that dinner.
"After 12 months and 12 dinners, I fundraised the costs associated with making a calendar, and each of those 12 kids would be the face of the month we had their dinner on.
"I sold the calendars and the money went towards the Education Fund to support the orphans.”
Nine years on, Mrs Walker has been to Thailand 12 times and, through a variety of events, manages to fundraise thousands of dollars each year for the children, in partnership with Lions Club of Udon Thani.
"There are currently about 45 orphans in the program, ranging from Kindy to University,” Mrs Walker said.
"All of the kids are affected by HIV/AIDS in some way - either their parents are affected or have passed away, or the child is HIV positive.
"The money we raise goes towards their school fees, uniforms, textbooks and lunches each day.
"For a child in kindy or primary school, the cost is $120 per year, and for high school, college or university it is $240 per year. It's such a small amount of money that makes such a huge difference.”
Mrs Walker travels to Thailand in the first week of May each year to deliver the money the charity has raised.
"The day I visit with the orphans is one of my favourite days of the year,” she said.
"My heart just swells with excitement and anticipation, my eyes darting around to see the familiar faces, the hugs and the smiles.
"It's love. And it's the icing on the cake after a year of fundraising at the markets and sausage sizzles; and conversations with people who want to sponsor kids; and the paper work and the Facebook posts and the translating.
"But it's not hard, none of it is. Once you meet those kids for the first time your heart breaks and then gets put back together in a different way. A better way. Scarred in a good way. Never to be the same again.”
It's the combination of her generosity of spirit and the hope children of Udon Thani recieve from the charity which spur Mrs Walker to stay dedicated to the Twenty9Eleven Ministries.
She describes the journey as a "silver lining” to one of life's heart breaking situations.
"Out of the five years my husband and I have been married, four of those years has been spent doing IVF,” she said.
"We've spent a lot of money trying to have a baby and, after six miscarriages and shattered dreams, we've decided to focus on other areas of our lives. And while it has been an extremely difficult journey, we are thankful that even though we haven't been able to have our own kids, it has meant we can focus more on these kids in Udon Thani.
"Now in this new chapter of my life, I can spend the time doing work for the orphans that I may not have been able to had any of my pregnancies been successful.”
Twenty9Eleven Ministries is a true reflection of community effort with many people involved with the charity.
"There are six members on our board. My husband Mike, my parents Ken an Lorraine Page and Gillean and Bruce Dowey,” Mrs Walker said.
"We have a small handful of faithful volunteers who regularly help us at our main fundraisers, the Lions Markets on the first Sunday of every month, the Harvey Norman sausage sizzle and the events where we have the Sno Cones.
"We also have a number of faithful sponsors who support individual orphans every year.”
From its humble beginnings, Twenty9Eleven Ministries has grown into a successful charity which last year raised $8000 for children in the Lions Education Fund.
"In the beginning I would always be going to Thailand alone, these days however many people want to meet the kids they are sponsoring or just be a part of what we're doing,” she said.
"We don't want any of the kids to lose hope.
"These kids need hope and we can help provide it.”
How to help
-The next markets Lions Markets will take place this Sunday at Rotary Park, Emerald, from 8am until 12pm.
-Twenty9Eleven Ministries are always looking for volunteers, to help out or become a private sponsor email twenty9elevenministries @gmail.com or call Tamara on 0419 023 043.
-To keep up to date with the charity, find them on Facebook.