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ELLIE SWEENEY HAS wisdom beyond
her years, borne of visiting places very
different from her Newcastle home.
In 2008 Ellie visited "La Valla", a home
and school for children with disabilities
run by the Marist Brothers in Cambodia.
The immersion experience is an annual
initiative of St Francis Xavier's College
where Ellie studied in Years 11 and 12.
She now identifies this as "a catalyst for
wanting to go and do more".
In 2010 Ellie realised a dream of visiting
Timor Leste (East Timor). She attributes
this to her senior school experiences:
"I was involved in the Social Justice group
at Frannie's and I always enjoyed that.
I helped with the Night Care Van as well.
There was a strong sense of community
"WE HAVE 11 Aboriginal students, but
it's the other students who need
to know about Aboriginal culture," says
Wanda McInnes-Fogg, principal of St Paul's
Primary at Gateshead. During Harmony
Week in March, St Paul's students had a
wonderful opportunity to be immersed in
Indigenous culture with a busy program of
Following a traditional smoking ceremony
led by Aboriginal Education Officer Louise
Campbell, the highlight of the day was
the appearance of the multi-talented
Sean Dewar. His lively and entertaining
performance encompassed storytelling,
dance, games, musical instruments,
language and a variety of artefacts and
the children responded enthusiastically.
As he demonstrated the use of coloured
ochres for body decoration and protection,
one student asked why he didn't cover
himself completely. He answered,
"Because after this I have to do the
Hands-on opportunities were plentiful in
a series of post-performance workshops.
Students tasted barbecued crocodile
and kangaroo, painted boomerangs,
canvases and their faces, danced, sang
and listened, entranced, to stories of
Sophie of Year 4 concluded, "I've learned
that Aboriginal culture is very important
and helping others was always encouraged."
Her desire to visit Timor arose from a
documentary she saw some years ago.
"Something just tickled my fancy, and the
idea of a gap year appealed because
I'd always wanted to volunteer in a
Realising the dream involved trawling the
net to find a suitable place to visit, and
eventually she settled on "Klibur Domin",
a health care facility run by the Ryder-
Cheshire Foundation. After the HSC, Ellie
worked to earn enough to travel to Timor,
arriving in July 2010.
"What I imagined and what I did were
very different. I imagined myself teaching
English and maybe music and art. I was
happy to get my hands dirty and do
whatever needed to be done. I very quickly
worked out that there wasn't much for me
to do! The whole experience really changed
my ideas about volunteering."
"I realised that 'doing something' wasn't
really going to help anybody. Klibur Domin
functions really well, working with stroke
victims and TB patients and providing
community rehabilitation. Many of the
patients are quite young, and many carers
are children, staying with a sibling while
a parent remains at home with the other
children. Many families have lost a parent.
The children at Klibur Domin aren't going
to school and some are there for quite
"I started working with the kids mainly,
playing games, teaching guitar and reading.
I was making flashcards to teach English
and discovered that they couldn't even
read [the local language] Tetun! A lot of
my time was spent trying to develop basic
literacy by reading stories to them. At first
they were reticent because they weren't
used to structure in their day, but as time
went on, they would come looking for me."
On weekends a group of volunteers would
gather in Tibar, which one described as
"a weekly sanity check". Most had the
experience of realising that 'doing' was
less important than 'enabling', and as Ellie
says, "Short term volunteers are really not
You could be forgiven for thinking that Ellie
might be heading back to the classroom
as a teacher, but she is studying Medicine
at the University of Newcastle, following
in her father Kevin's footsteps. She is
confident that she will return to Timor, and
hopefully offer her medical skills in other
the same we are
How very much
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
What inspires you? Watching people
together, going about their daily lives.
It reminds me how very much the same
we are and always makes me smile.
Favourite film? The Castle.
Favourite novel? To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
What address would you like to try on
for size? The Northern Territory.
What skill would you like to master?
What do you look forward to? Uni life,
and more travel.
How would you like to be
remembered? As a loving person who
saw a lot of the world and its people.
popular at Gateshead
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
Didgeridoo sounds were on the program.
Principal Wanda McInnes-Fogg watches Chase Lennox and
Lacey Logue painting boomerangs.
Students participated respectfully in
the traditional smoking ceremony.
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