Home' Aurora : Aurora September 2011 Contents 19
www.mn.catholic.org.au | Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle |
THIS WAS THE scenario confronting Helen*,
now 21, about a year ago. Helen had
migrated from Sudan, with her stepmother
and brother, aged 15, and initially settled
in Darwin. Her greatest hope in coming to
Australia was to gain "a proper education",
since this was difficult in Sudan.
Helen did complete Year 11 in Darwin but
did not find her situation easy. There was
tension between Helen and her stepmother;
"It was difficult for me to live with her, and
I couldn't study properly." Sadly, Helen's
father had passed away.
It was suggested that Helen move to
Adelaide, but there was little support for
her there. She fell pregnant, which was
the beginning of a challenging period for
Her. The relationship with the baby's father
became tenuous, and his responses, and
those of his family, to the situation made
Helen feel unsafe and alone.
There were relatives in Sydney, so Helen and
baby Virginia* headed there, confident that
the ties that existed were strong enough
to create a supportive environment. Again,
she was disappointed. Eventually Helen,
who was by now 19, found accommodation
for herself and Virginia in a hostel. It was
suggested that she look for a house to
rent, but this was very difficult with little
income, no transport and full responsibility
for Virginia. Looking back, she says, "It was
so, so difficult."
Eventually Helen made her way to
Newcastle, where she was able to live with
a friend's family for some six months. When
this was no longer possible, she was put
in touch with CatholicCare Hunter Manning.
Helen now looks back on this time as a real
turning point. Since the birth of her baby,
Helen and Virginia had lived in temporary
or 'stop gap' circumstances. Now she was
assigned a case worker from CatholicCare's
Youth Services, and a new way of life began.
Thanks to the confidence she has gained
from having ongoing support, Helen has
grown in independence and has a far
more positive outlook. After initially being
placed in temporary accommodation, she
is now renting a home in her own right.
CatholicCare's Links to Independence
program has been able to assist with
advocacy and support and with the provision
Most promisingly, Helen has enrolled in a
language, literacy and numeracy course
at TAFE and she has been supplied with a
laptop computer to assist her in her studies.
She looks forward to the time when she
can be employed full time, hopefully in the
hospitality industry, as she has worked in
the field before. Meanwhile, on TAFE days,
Virginia is happy to spend time in childcare.
Helen has made many friends in Newcastle
and has found a worshipping community
where she feels comfortable. In fact, while
I spoke to her, the phone hardly stopped
ringing! Not surprisingly, she has gained
confidence in her ability to raise Virginia
independently, and she looks forward to the
future with hope.
CatholicCare Hunter Manning has supported
Helen -- and many other young people -- in
ways that promote autonomy. Sometimes all
that is required is an encouraging visit; at
other times, the client can be put in touch
with government services that can help. In
fact, Helen says simply, of CatholicCare,
"They are my family."
In a demonstration of faith in the future,
Helen has become an Australian citizen.
Next on her agenda is learning to drive, so
there will be no limits to where she and
Virginia might go!
*Names have been changed in the interests of privacy.
IT IS A sentiment often expressed by
volunteers that the benefits they receive
from the act of giving are immense.
This is certainly the case for Jackie* a
volunteer for the Compeer program,
facilitated and funded locally by the St
Vincent de Paul Society. Jackie spends an
hour a week with Karen* who suffers from
Bipolar disorder and says the time they
spend together is one of the highlights of
her week. "It gives me joy to connect with
Karen, she has such an awesome sense
of humour, we have so many laughs, she
lights up my week," Jackie says.
For Karen, who has no family in the area,
her time with Jackie allows her to gain
some positive social support. Karen says,
"Before I only had a few friends who all
had mental illness so it's great meeting a
regular person who normalises things. She
is constant and doesn't just talk about
medications and problems and she has
interests she can talk about. Through the
program I have also met other people that
I can have dinner with and meet for book
club and it's really good to have contact
with a diversity of people."
Compeer is an international program
that has been running for 30 years but
was only launched in our region a year
ago. Compeer aims to alleviate some of
the isolation and loneliness that people
who have a mental illness experience by
matching them in friendship with caring
trained volunteers. For the many people
who become psychologically unwell,
research shows that a positive network of
social support and friendship is essential
for recovery. The Compeer program aims
to give people the opportunity to establish
genuine friendships which build self
esteem and confidence and a new sense
of empowerment to live a full life.
Matt* is a 35 year old volunteer who
is matched with client Andy* who is 37
and has schizophrenia. Matt, who has
experienced mental health issues in
his own family, wanted to volunteer to
help someone "reintegrate into society".
He says, "I understand the stigma and
difficulties such individuals face day to day,
hence, spending the time with someone
on a consistent basis, just being a friend,
is what a lot of people need." Matt and
Andy typically play tennis or squash or
simply meet for coffee. Matt recognises
that it's the things most people take for
granted that mean so much to a person
recovering from any form of illness.
Natalie Pittman, Co-ordinator of the
Compeer program in the Lower Hunter,
Newcastle and Lake Macquarie Region,
is thrilled with the response the program
has received since it was launched last
breathing program. On a daily basis I see
and hear stories about people developing
confidence and feeling like they are valued
members in this community, that their life
is worth something. Many people with a
mental illness often feel like they have
nothing to offer society, that there really
isn't much to live for, but through Compeer
I see people discovering that there is a
whole world out there to engage with, a
whole world to embrace and truly live in."
Natalie shared some special feedback
from another Compeer client on the
impact their Compeer friendship has for
them, "I'm a Christian and my life is living
proof that God exists...today I prayed that
the phone would ring, I've got no friends
so who's going to call, I get so lonely, so
I prayed today that it would ring, and
then you rang."
The Compeer program currently has
26 volunteers matched with a client
but is in need of further generosity as
there are more than 50 people on a
waiting list hoping to be matched with
a friend. Some of these people have
been waiting more than six months to
To volunteer for the Compeer program you
don't need any specific skills. As Natalie
noted, "Volunteers just need a willing
heart, some time and the ability to be a
good friend. The hour spent as a Compeer
volunteer each week is the opportunity to
make a difference in someone's life, to
bring joy, so simple yet effective."
If you are interested in volunteering or
would like support yourself, P Compeer
Co-ordinator Natalie Pittman on
4032 3582 or
It is a sentiment often expressed by volunteers that the benefits
they receive from the act of giving are immense.
Imagine finding yourself in a strange city, far away from home,
with no means of support, a young baby to care for, and few prospects.
By JOANNE ISAAC
By TRACEY EDSTEIN
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