Old Bar residents Mike and Linda Norris are an inspirational couple who generously volunteer their time to help the vulnerable and less fortunate, both in Australia and overseas. Linda recently spent some time sharing their story with us.
What brought you to settle in the beautiful Manning Valley?
Old Bar has become a “Shangri-La” for us – a real sea change. We “retired” to Old Bar in 2010 after working in schools and in private tutoring for 38 years. With family in Old Bar and Port Macquarie, the move was a “no brainer”, and it was such a treat to be close to the family after spending so many years teaching in a variety of small and large schools around the country.
What was the catalyst for you becoming involved in volunteer work, and what in particular drew you to volunteer with HPI?
When we moved to Old Bar, we had lots of ideas about the sorts of adventures that lay in store … a bucket list! We thought about spending more time with our family, travelling around Australia and maybe overseas and, of course, spending sunny days on the beach or on the tennis courts. Well, we have achieved many of those things, but getting involved with HUMANITARIAN PROJECTS INTERNATIONAL (HPI) has added an even more wonderful dimension to our retirement.
The last few years in Queensland had been very difficult for me, as I battled breast cancer in 2002 and then a brain tumour in 2005. Having survived my health scares and recovered well, I began to look for reasons why I had “dodged the bullet” and felt very strongly that there must be a new purpose for my life.
We’ve always been passionate about helping children, so Mike retired from his school principal duties, and we set up a tutoring business to help struggling students. We loved the work, but there was still a sense in me that there was more that I could do.
My answer came from a friend who was joining a team of Scrapbookers, organised by World Hope Australia, travelling to South Africa to do a “Memory Book” project with people living with AIDs in a makeshift camp outside of Pretoria. A team member had become ill and they needed one more to go with them … Me! So, I travelled to South Africa in 2007 – and my life was changed. I fell in love with the people and the country. When I left, I left a little part of my heart there too.
I returned in 2008 and completed the “Memory Book” project with a group of abandoned children living in a Safe House in Pretoria. It was called “Precious Pearls” and was a place of hope and inspiration.
In 2010, after moving to Old Bar, Mike and I attended a Watoto Children’s Choir concert in Taree, where victims of Joseph Coney’s Civil war in Uganda told their stories in song and dance about being “child soldiers”. This time we both knew that we would become involved – and in 2011 we joined a Watoto Australia team on a building project, erecting classrooms for these children in a Watoto village outside of Kampala in Uganda. This led to us joining the Watoto Australia Committee.
In 2012 the committee’s name was changed to Humanitarian Projects International (HPI), and under its new name, HPI has undertaken sustainable development projects in AUSAid sanctioned countries such as Uganda, South Africa, Timor Leste and the Philippines. We have also provided volunteers for work with an Indigenous community in the East Kimberley region of W.A.
Your work with HPI has taken you to some very different locations – tell us about where you’ve been.
In 2011, we travelled to Suubi Village, which is about an hour and a half out of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, for our first building project with HPI. This village has been progressively built by volunteers from around the world. All the homes housed eight children, many of whom had been rescued from Joseph Coney’s army.
In 2012 and 2013, we were fortunate to be able to volunteer during a Live-in Drug and Alcohol Intervention Programme held on a property called “Mirrilingki” in the outback town of Warmun, situated on the Great Northern Highway between Kununurra and Halls Creek.
In 2014 we travelled to a village outside of Tzaneen in the northern part of South Africa called Marirone, to assist with our next building project.
What is on the horizon now in terms of HPI and your volunteer work?
Travelling overseas has not been possible for us over the last three years, but we are hoping that we’ll be able to join another team within the next couple of years. In the meantime, we focus on fundraising to support these projects, and the HPI Committee is absolutely amazed at the support engendered just in our Old Bar community. We recently held a Family Bush Dance and were overwhelmed by the generosity of the local Old Bar businesses and some members of the Taree community as well.
For any of our readers who are interested in volunteering, is there anything you would like to say to inspire or encourage them?
We are so fortunate to live in this amazing country, which is one of the wealthiest in the world. HPI can offer us a chance to be thankful for our families, our children, and our way of life here in Australia. Here is an opportunity to give back to humanity just a small portion of what we have been given. You don’t have to be a tradesperson, just a compassionate volunteer who wants to make a difference in our world. Perhaps combining travel plans with a HPI project in the Philippines or Africa would be a wonderful way to experience other people and their cultures, as well as giving hope to some of the world’s most vulnerable children.
If people want to become involved, how can they do so? What are the pre-requisites?
HPI exists to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children and adults who are suffering due to displacement, maltreatment, disease, poverty or the ravages of war.
To become a member of HPI is free. As a member you will be kept up to date with our current activities, and you can support by assisting at fundraising events and promoting HPI to your friends and associates.
The only prerequisite is a willingness to help!
If you would like to chat with us about HPI, you can call us on (02) 6557 4060 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview: Ingrid Bayer.