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St Vincent de Paul Society

Winter 2006

Into Africa Dreams meet reality Global warning: the future is frugal Fun and games in Wadeye country Love, laughter and Cyclone Larry

Mental Health FIrst Aid: Part III


‘God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places.’ – Bono

Vinnies Mission The Mission of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia is to deepen the Catholic faith of its members so that they can go out into our nation and heighten the awareness of Jesus Christ. We do this by sharing ourselves – who we are, what we have – with the poor on a person-toperson basis. We seek to co-operate in shaping a more just and compassionate Australian community, and to share our resources with our ‘twinned’ countries. Our preferred option in this mission of service is to work with the poor in development by respecting their dignity, sharing our hope and encouraging them to take control of their own destiny.

‘A Century Not Out’ St Vincent de Paul Society Townsville Diocese, Queensland 1906 – 2006 2006 signifies the centenary anniversary of the formation of the first St Vincent de Paul Society Conference in the Townsville Diocese. To mark the occasion, a weekend of Centenary Celebrations is taking place from Thursday 24 to Sunday 27 August. We look forward to welcoming Society members, volunteers and supporters past and present to help celebrate this significant milestone. For more information, contact Christine Knickel on (07) 4771 4077.

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In this issue… 3

Frontlines From the National President

4

Editorial Walk on

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Not happy Larry Cyclone exposure

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Global warning Green and good

8

Casting the net

Dare to dream Project Africa at dawn

11 Slice of life With Tony Muir

13 Breach of duty The price of justice

15 Federal Budget 2006 Boosts inequality

16 Eyes wide open Young Vinnies on tour

24 Noticeboard Did you hear…?

25 Mental Health First Aid Part III: Psychosis

28 Letters Have your say

30 On reflection Hope and resilience

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n reflecting on The Record and its fourth issue in its new format, I considered the intention of the National Council of the St Vincent de Paul Society to make the publication more attractive and readable to ensure we more effectively promote our mission to our friends in need and the marginalised. Our readership focuses on our 44,000 members, our volunteers, the Catholic/Christian community and policy and decision makers especially in those spheres where they can make a positive difference to the lives of the people we serve. The Editorial Committee will be trying to achieve this target by introducing to you more lively writers while continuing to reflect the concerns of our readers. Like many volunteer organisations we are conscious of our age profile – over 60 years. We have commissioned a project to identify what attracts and repels people aged 35 to 55 from engagement and involvement in volunteer work but specifically in our Society. This is a National project and the outcome will provide recommendations for the future; a toolkit to assist in the Society’s engagement with generation X. Collection and analysis of existing organisational information, documentation and knowledge will help to provide an overview and identify potential gaps. The Society – a spiritual, volunteer and democratic organisation – is always ready to change to meet the contemporary needs of the underprivileged. John Meahan National President St Vincent de Paul Society Australia

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Walk on

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xodus by Mel Brigg is a stark painting. It shows people walking upright towards a dark horizon. Whether it’s the darkness of death, ignorance or unknowing, the same horizon confronts nine members of Vinnies who have set out on the path of Project Africa. These nine commissioners are seeing if Vinnies can make a difference in Africa, where 150,000 people die every month – many of disease and poverty the West could prevent. In South Africa, Mel Brigg’s homeland, a friend tells me cemeteries filled with simple white crosses have mushroomed across the landscape due to AIDS. In Malawi whole generations of work-aged men and women are being wiped out by the disease, leaving grandparents to raise their orphans. It would be easy to throw up our hands in despair. If an old campaigner like Bob Geldof occasionally finds himself at a loss, where does that leave the rest of us? Yet, as Alexander Pope wrote in the 18th century, ‘Hope springs eternal in the human brest’. Pope, a cripple from the age of 12 due to tuberculosis, which continues to infect Africans, also wrote in his Essay on Man: ‘In faith and hope the world will disagree, but all mankind’s concern is charity.’ And charity can turn Africa around; economist Jeffrey Sachs has done the maths. If only individuals, businesses and governments in the West gave it their best. In Australia there’s every reason to expect that we will rise to the occasion; as private citizens we are the second most generous among OECD nations. So the picture is bleak, the horizon black, but faith has a way of sparking in the dark and making people bright.

St Vincent de Paul Society

Winter 2006 Vol. 89 No. 2

Incorporating Viewpoint

Cover: Exodus by Mel Brigg. Courtesy of David Hart Galleries, Mooloolaba QLD. www. davidhartgalleries.com.au The Record is published four times a year by the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia. 1B Thomas Street, Lewisham NSW 2149 PO Box 373, Summer Hill NSW 2130 Phone: 02 9572 6044 Fax: 02 9572 6081 Email: rita.williams@svdp.org.au Website: vinnies.org.au National Council of Australia 22 Thesigar Court, PO Box 243 Deakin ACT 2600 Phone: 02 6202 1200 Email: margaretm@svdpnatcl.org.au Editor: Rita Williams Assistant editor: Jessica Gadd The Record is overseen by an editorial committee comprising Syd Tutton (chairperson), Rita Williams (editor), Jessica Gadd (assistant editor), Danusia Kaska, Jonathan Campton and Raymond James. Advertising: Rita Williams Phone: 02 9572 6044 Email: rita.williams@svdp.org.au Design: Graphic by Design PO Box 3295, Erina NSW 2250 Phone: 02 4365 6777 Website: gbd.com.au Printing: Doran Printing 46 Industrial Drive, Braeside Victoria 3195 Phone: 03 9587 4333 Fax: 03 9587 3177 Email: sales@doran.com.au Website: doran.com.au Opinions expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the publishers.

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Not happy Larry Howling wind and weeks of rain failed to dint the humour of people doing it tough. By Anna Baird

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member of the State Emergency Service approached a woman who was sitting with other evacuees and said to her: ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you’ve lost the roof off your house.’ She looked up at him, smiled and replied: ‘You must have the wrong person. I haven’t lost my roof.’ Taken aback, he paused a moment, and decided she must be in shock. Then he repeated: ‘I know it’s not the news you’d want, but I’ve just come back from your street and it’s true. The roof is missing.’ ‘It’s not missing and it’s not lost,’ she said. ‘It’s in my swimming pool.’ Cyclone humour sprouted amid the chaos and destruction that followed Larry. At Innisfail, the Society’s State President of Queensland passed a sign by the road that someone had changed from ‘Happy as Larry’ to ‘Not Happy Larry’. John Campbell drove as far as Cairns and the Atherton tablelands within weeks of Larry. About 1500km north of Brisbane, the first signs of damage appeared. Cardwell, a picturesque town that gets a mention on tourism websites, has stunning views to the Whitsundays. Larry collapsed houses, deleafed forests, and switched off all the lights. Acre upon acre of cane crops, banana plantations and fruit farms were demolished. Suddenly people with mortgages and loans to service had nowhere to work. At Innisfail, flying debris pierced the roof of the Vinnies Centre and water saturated the stock and flooring. But as soon as Emergency Services cleared the way, local members provided support from the back of the shop including food, water, blankets and shelter to those in need. Among the people who received emergency accommodation and cash relief from Vinnies were a couple from the suburb of Coconuts who had resorted to sleeping on a table in their back patio after Larry had whipped off the roofing over the bedrooms and living areas; water trickled beneath them as they slept. Vinnies have been able to help through the generosity of people around Australia who responded to the Cyclone Larry appeal, which has raised $600,000 and counting. The money pays for the purchase of fridges, washing machines, linen and furniture for people who are re-establishing themselves. Queensland Rail provided a container to store new whitegoods and furniture sent from Brisbane for families

with immediate needs. ‘Our key concern is the long term issues that will arise from this situation,’ said John Campbell. ‘Many have been left homeless and will now need to rebuild their lives. Vinnies will be there to support them and offer material and financial assistance.’ Through its home visitation program, the Society will also support people through their personal struggles. Some may face emotional setbacks and strain, particularly those who are forced to relocate. The Society sincerely thanks everyone who has donated to the Appeal, but we are not there yet and encourage people to continue digging deep. Anyone requiring support from the St Vincent de Paul Society can contact their local Vinnies shop. The St Vincent de Paul Society prides itself on ensuring funds raised for specific appeals go directly to those in need. To make a credit card donation to the Cyclone Larry Appeal please call 13 18 12 or alternatively cheques can be posted to PO Box 3351, South Brisbane Qld 4101.

in mid March Larry blew off a bit more than steam

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Global warning The world’s poor will be among the first to suffer if we don’t act to save the einvronment now. By Bruce Duncan

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he St Vincent de Paul Society has a proud record of practical concern for people in distress. This concern is expressed not just in immediate hands-on contact with people, but has taken Frederick Ozanam’s example to heart, asking why people are poor, and how to devise better social policies to reduce the extent of hardship. As an international organisation, the Society is naturally concerned with global efforts to lift living standards in the poorer countries, especially as formulated by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. These aim to improve the health and living conditions for the poorest people in the world, reducing by half the number of people living on less than US$1 a day and in chronic hunger. This concerted international effort is attempting to lift hundreds of millions of people out of the most severe poverty. Leading international economists like Professor Jeffrey Sachs assure us that this is not a pipe dream, but is readily affordable and achievable if the richer nations are prepared to put the needed resources into the effort. The Vatican and other church organisations have strongly supported this unprecedented humanitarian effort. However, the environmental crisis brought on by global warming is emerging as a very serious threat to improving living standards in poorer countries. The rapid economic transformation in India, China and elsewhere is further increasing the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

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s various expert speakers reiterated at the Catholic Earthcare conference in Canberra late last year, the environmental issues are extremely serious (see www. catholicearthcareoz.net). It is unfortunately no exaggeration to speak of a looming crisis of catastrophic proportions. Within the lifetime of children today, sea levels are expected to rise significantly, and temperatures in Australia could increase by 4-6 degrees, making many parts of the country virtually uninhabitable. Rising sea levels will affect all coastal areas of course. Even a rise of one metre will flood some Pacific Islands, and drive hundreds of millions of people from low-lying regions in Bangladesh and the Nile delta in Egypt. Increasingly erratic weather is expected to disrupt global food production, in a period when world population will rise by 50 per cent until it plateaus out. The Record – Winter 2006 Page 6

The most bitter irony is that while the poorer countries have not caused this imminent environmental crisis, they may have to bear much of the price. It is the richer countries, particularly the United States and Australia, which emit the highest per capita levels of greenhouse gases. What has become clear is that western lifestyles, based on high energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, are not only not sustainable, but pose an imminent threat to the whole world. With almost criminal neglect, the US and Australian governments have done little to reduce our greenhouse gases. Future generations will undoubtedly judge this head-in-thesand attitude harshly.

Frugality need not mean deprivation, but a more realistic and modest sense of what is needed for a happy and fulfilling life

It is not just that these governments are closely connected with the hydro-carbon industries of oil, gas and coal, but the global warming crisis threatens the economic growth models that have made us so prosperous in the last 50 years. Sustained economic growth has allowed wider distribution of the economic benefits, backed up by the welfare state with high health and education standards. The ‘trickle-down’ effects of this prosperity have provided a firm base for social stability, international peace and enhancement of human rights. All this is now under threat, unless we can quickly develop new, non-polluting forms of energy. It is extremely urgent that western countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though Australia and the United States are still increasing them.

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learly, we have a moral imperative both to help increase living standards in poorer countries, and at the same time reduce greenhouse gases, beginning with ourselves. How can we tackle both these challenges at once? This is the great dilemma the world faces.


We cannot remain locked into our present patterns of economic growth, and unless we can find new sources of energy and better manage scarce resources, especially water, we are heading for a disaster of truly disturbing proportions. What can we do? First, we need a new economic model that encourages restraint in the use of resources and an ethic of frugality. It is hard to see how we can continue our profligate consumerism if we are sharply to reduce greenhouse gases. Some writers have foreseen the need for a steady-state economics, but the need for such a shift into an economics not based on continuous growth has now become pressing. The implications are enormous for governments, companies, international trade and redistribution policies. No wonder policy makers are nervous and uncertain about how to proceed. In a remarkable development, the economics of E F Schumacher in his 1973 work, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, is having deeper resonance in economic circles. The churches have traditionally urged moderation in lifestyles, but now it is people like Clive Hamilton from the Australia Institute in his recent book, Affluenza: When Too Much Is Never Enough, urging a new frugality in use of resources. Second, as the Catholic Earthcare conference stressed so strongly, we need to take seriously the call to reduce our personal use of energy and resources. This is an urgent matter, involving how we design our cities and build our houses,

heating and cooling, our forms of transport, use of water, farming practices and so on.

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he political implications are also very demanding. An end to the economics of sustained economic growth will call for astute leadership so as not to destabilise democracies, and greater equity in the distribution of goods and services. Frugality need not mean deprivation, but a more realistic and modest sense of what is needed for a happy and fulfilling life. It would seem that we are at one of those critical moments in history when the choices made have enormous consequences for later generations. Not only must we move to a more environmentally friendly economy in richer countries, but we must not abandon efforts to raise living standards in poorer countries. It would indeed be tragic if we used the threat from global warming, that industrial countries have caused, as an excuse not to implement the Millennium Development Goals. Instead we must develop more sustainable technologies and economic policies to support more modest lifestyles, all of which can be shared with the poorer countries so that people everywhere have decent living standards with reasonable life opportunities. Bruce Duncan is a Redemptorist priest who coordinates the program in social justice studies at Yarra Theological College in Melbourne. He is a consultant with Catholic Social Services Victoria.

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Dare to dream Shadows over the lasting effects of foreign aid in Africa have lead Vinnies to tackle the problems in a new way. By Jessica Gadd

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irmly imprinted in the memory of Pius Ehiagwina is a father of three who turned to the St Vincent de Paul Society for help. The man had been nursing his sick wife for five years when he suddenly became blind. Unable to work and therefore pay school fees, he had to stop sending his children to school before they were old enough to work and support their parents. ‘It was a family of five completely helpless people,’ says Pius, a Vincentian from Nigeria. ‘There is no social security in the country, as there is none in other countries in my region. The conference had to do their best, which was grossly inadequate because of lack of money.’ Nellie Shogwe, President of the Brianstone Conference in South Africa, tells a similar tale. A family of six children watched their father and mother die in 2001 and 2003 respectively. The conference had enough money to offer the children support with medical costs, food and clothing, and they were delighted to see the children adapt to their new life. The eldest son, now 24, stepped into his parents’ shoes, leaving school to look for work. The four youngest children, all still at school, were eligible for a government grant for orphaned children and used the money to secure two rooms in which they now live with an 18-year-old sister who has two children of her own. The conference still helps out, but not as much as before.

‘They are doing well,’ Nellie says, ‘after having to nurse their mother through the final stages of her illness and watch her go. Their story has moved me. I want to see them succeed. I try to tell them that education is how they can break the cycle of poverty.’ Nellie doesn’t say what the parents died from, but the numbers tell that story. While 10 per cent of the world population lives in sub-Saharan Africa, it is home to 60 per cent of the people living with HIV – some 25.8 million adults and children. The devastation caused by the disease’s rapid spread is widely evident, with increasing numbers of grandparent-headed families – and worse, the newly emerging demographic of child-headed households.

‘Africa contain s the diamond wealth of the world, a lot of it still u n tapped.’ – Mike Nolan

HIV/AIDS is not the only problem besetting Africa. Malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis and Hepatitis C are also prevalent, and many African nations are plagued by war, drought, political snarls, corruption, crippling levels of debt and extreme poverty.

All that glitters

Children in Moza mbique practise a dance for Mass.

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Ironically, Africa is rich in diamonds, oil, cobalt and gold. ‘There is more oil along the west coast of Africa than Iran and Iraq put together,’ says Mike Nolan, a South African Vincentian. ‘And Africa contains the diamond wealth of the world, a lot of it still untapped. It’s a disgrace that Africa’s natural resources are being exploited, often by the rest of the world, and not being used to build up the lives of the people.’ Mike Nolan and Pius Ehiagwina act as conduits between Africa and the Council General of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Their titles may be long – officially they are International Territorial Vice Presidents for Africa – but so is their involvement with Vinnies. Between them they have contributed 55 years to the Society. The suffering they encounter is immense. Pius reports on 21 countries in Africa’s northwest (known as Africa 1),


with 37,260 Society members and volunteers. Mike reports for Africa 2, a region covering 18 countries in eastern and southern Africa with 39,500 members and volunteers. Africa receives a massive amount of foreign aid, but many regard this as a leaky bucket; billions of dollars pour in and there seems nothing to show for it. ‘Just before Christmas, Bob Geldof asked: Where has all the money gone? What has it done for the people in Africa? The answer is nobody knows,’ says John Meahan, National President of the Society in Australia. John has recently donned another hat – and a large one at that. He was invited by the President of Council General, Jose Ramon Diaz-Torremocha, to head a newly formed commission charged with assessing the possibilities for a coordinated and sustainable Vinnies approach to addressing poverty in Africa. ‘It’s a big project,’ John says mildly. ‘But I’m working with a good team. The initial responses have been positive, and everybody in the commission is pleased to be a part of it.’ Including John, there are nine commissioners from a range of countries: Oliver Bethoux (France), Julietta Marumahko (Zimbabwe), Eduardo Marques (Brazil), Rita Oliva (Italy), Maurice Downey (United States of America), Eva Hener (France), Pius Ehiagwina (Nigeria) and Mike Nolan (South Africa). ‘I wanted a range of people so that they could have a fresh look at Africa,’ says John. ‘The Society already has VINPAZ, which funds some projects; Australia has funded a farm that grows maize and they’ve recently harvested their first crop, which I’m told was successful. ‘There are a lot of twinning relationships too, and the existing Vincentians and conferences in Africa will be involved with anything we plan; they need to be the backbone. The questions the commission asks will have to zero in on where the possibilities are for us to make a difference. Is it possible, is it feasible? It’s all very well raising $10 million, but if there is no infrastructure, there is no point. We don’t want to see grand projects set up and then fall over.’ John and his fellow commission members believe that the Society’s spirituality and values will be a central and unifying element as they break down the problems and find a way to rebuild on a stronger foundation.

Survivor: The real world ‘I long to see a clear vision and radical way of helping Africa, as opposed to theories and abandoned dreams,’ says Pius Ehiagwina. ‘A frica must be better than it is now.’ The Society is present in 38 African countries, though the size and strength of this presence varies from place to place. Eritrea, for example, has three conferences and 80 members, while Zambia has 1300 conferences and 22,920 members. Each country’s size, dominant religion and twinning status, as well as politics and economy, make a difference. As elsewhere, Society members in Africa base their work on home visitation, meeting immediate needs for food, shelter, medication and emotional support. There are also special projects of various dimensions, from large-scale timber plantations and the VINPAZ farm to the provision of

meals in schools, mobile clinics and repatriation assistance for refugees. The larger of these projects are often sponsored by a twinned country; Ireland has a particularly strong twinning presence in Africa and recently formalised their arrangements in a national twinning strategy that other countries such as France and Belgium are using as a model. The strength of the relationships varies, but 27 of the 38 countries are twinned. Mike Nolan keeps in touch with the people of his region through the usual methods of phone and email, but he also makes special excursions on his motorbike. These trips across the wide expanse of Africa have given him great admiration for the people he sees.

e in Mozambiqu Young Vinnies

. prepare lunch

‘A fricans generally are very humble and honest,’ says Mike. ‘The culture of a black African is live for today with no thought for tomorrow. They have no fear of death because they believe that when they die they will go back to their ancestors, or, if they are Christian or Islamic, to God. ‘The extended family culture is still very much alive; a man can go to his father’s funeral five times – one for his real father and four times for his uncles. They are very unfussed and unencumbered at heart. It’s all about survival – and loving your family, which is very Christian really.’ Just as the Society manifests differently in each country, so do the needs it must meet. But Pius Ehiagwina says the basic ones are consistently shelter, clean water, food and assistance for health and education. Eduardo Marques Almeida, a Brazilian Vincentian, agrees. He has worked professionally on development projects for many years and believes that the Vincentian network and projects such as twinning could serve Africa well. Like his fellow commission members, Eduardo is ready to think big. ‘I can imagine young Vincentians from Europe, the US and other places spending their holidays working on projects in Africa, to the benefit of both,’ he says. Projects that involve job creation and education are of particular interest to Eduardo, as he believes these would St Vincent de Paul Society Australia Page 9


have a positive impact on the participants’ self-esteem. ‘What makes me worried is that young people have no opportunities for work. I meet many young members of the Society [in Africa] who are looking for support or job opportunities outside their home countries – people with higher education degrees.’

First things first Ideas to alleviate suffering in Africa have been discussed in Vincentian circles for years. One suggestion was to run a massive international twinning drive with the purpose of linking African nations to well-resourced countries. Another was to narrow the focus to one African country, establish long-term projects there to generate employment and income, then use these as a model for expanding the Society’s aid to other African countries. At this early stage, John and his fellow commission members are developing a detailed and thorough assessment of what is already happening in Africa. It is the first time the Society has assessed the continent as a whole, from the existing Vincentian presence and the work of other NGOs, to determining which needs are greatest and which can be most adequately met. The commission has two years to form a plan and then two years to implement it. ‘We may need to get something set up that can provide food first and then tackle the rest,’ says John. ‘You can’t learn with a hungry tummy. ‘There are already big projects on AIDS, so it may be better for us to meet other needs. If other organisations are doing good things maybe we could join them or replicate their patterns. The key is finding out the best way the Society can help. Any projects we undertake must be open and transparent. Otherwise we run the risk of people becoming jaded. A lot of countries have wanted to help but have been discouraged by the misuse of funds and the immensity of the problems.’ Misuse of funds and corruption seem to be less prevalent in Africa today than in the past. A former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, made it his goal to stamp out corruption in client states when he commenced his term. Last year he told The 7.30 Report that there are still many obstacles but things in Africa are slowly starting to change. ‘I think it’s better than it was, in the sense that we have many more countries that are showing positive growth,’ said Wolfensohn. ‘We had 15 countries [in 2005] that had more than 5 per cent growth, which was a long way better than anything we’ve seen previously. And we have numerous countries where you can see good governance – young people, not corrupt, looking to bring about changes in the countries … Africa, combining AIDS and poverty, is still the worst-performing sector in the world. The good thing about it is that I think African leadership is now really trying to make a difference, and I sense a different climate in Africa than I did 10 years ago.’ Even so, many African nations are struggling to pay off staggering levels of debt, much of it accumulated by military dictators with little or no benefit to the people of their countries. In his book Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa, Stephen Lewis points out that

between 1970 and 2002 Africa acquired $294 billion of debt. Yet over the same period it paid back $260 billion, mostly in interest. ‘At the end of it all, Africa continued to owe upwards of $230 billion in debt. Surely that is the definition of international obscenity,’ he wrote. According to Lewis, much of the assistance given to African nations has been labelled ‘phantom aid’ by ActionAid, a development NGO from the United Kingdom. Lewis quotes ActionAid’s argument that 60 per cent of government aid ‘is never really available for the purposes pretended. Where then does the money go? To “technical assistance” (otherwise known as over-priced consultants); to “tied aid” (otherwise known as the purchase of goods from the donor country’s own firms); and to “administrative costs” (otherwise known as inflated overheads).’

‘We may need to ge t something set up that can provide food first and then tackle the rest. You can’ t learn with a hungry tummy.’ – John Meahan

Something to be done John Meahan is aware of the many pitfalls. ‘I know it’s not going to be easy,’ he says. ‘It’s a long-term job. Vincentians around the world will happily generate the funds if we prove that we can use it well. And we anticipate this is going to involve big dollars. That’s why the International President General’s secretary, Eva Hener, is involved. She can approach the European Common Market and the International Development Fund. If we can demonstrate we have good, accountable projects, we may be able to gain access to some of these funds. ‘We just have to have the courage to dream that we can make a difference. But that shouldn’t be a problem – the St Vincent de Paul Society has never been afraid of tackling the tough jobs.’ In the words of the Society’s South African National President June Rehman: ‘We could never, as much as we tried, make a dent in it. But I’m not discouraged. At least we are doing something.’ And that’s just it. No matter what happens in Africa, Vinnies will be doing something – more than something if John Meahan and his fellow commissioners have anything to do with it. Jessica Gadd is former editor of Australian Catholics.

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Johannesburg sion project in A house exten


Tony Muir President of State Council, St Vincent de Paul Society of Tasmania

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ony Muir takes leadership in his stride. Walking in front of the pack comes easy to this native son of Devonport who served his country in Vietnam before joining the St Vincent de Paul Society 28 years ago. Tony’s number came up for National Service while he was an apprentice carpenter, and government regulations prevented him from enlisting until he had finished his apprenticeship. So he entered military training at 21 and went to Vietnam in 1969-70 with the 6RAR infantry battalion, one of only two Anzac battalions in Vietnam, which included New Zealand soldiers. The 6RAR tour inspired John Schumann to write the Redgum hit ‘I was only 19’, based largely on the experiences of his brother-in-law Mick Storer, who served with Tony as a forward scout in the same platoon. ‘You had to walk on the outside edge of your shoes,’ says Tony, demonstrating the technique that minimised the sound of troops on the move. With a stature that attracted the nickname of Shortie and enormous eyes that could stay on high alert, it is easy to see why an officer would direct his men to follow Tony. His tour of duty ended under the cover of darkness. The flight from Vietnam arrived at Mascot

about 2am and Tony disappeared into the long night of a country’s forgetting. ‘They wanted us to pretend that we’d never been there; as if we’d imagined it all,’ he says. Spat upon and ignored, Tony like other Vietnam veterans had to wait until the Welcome Home March in Sydney in 1987 to receive acceptance. The contrast speaks for itself when he remembers the day: ‘There were 100,000 people in the streets, and they were clapping.’ Some of his platoon never saw it. Tony held his best mate as he lay dying on the battlefield. Others committed suicide after they got home. The war has had lasting effects on Tony too. ‘There’s not a day when my thoughts are not disturbed by memories of it,’

he says. ‘It took 15 or 20 years before I noticed that some parts of my lifestyle had been affected. Several times I would be walking along the street and suddenly drop to the ground because a car backfired, that kind of thing.’ Tony accepts that some people opposed the war in Vietnam, but he would fight again if he was called to do so. ‘That’s what the government of the day chose to do and I would give my life for my country,’ he says. The youngest of seven children, Tony arrived nine years after his next sibling. He was about 18 months old when his mother died of tuberculosis, and he lost a sister two days later. Growing up under the care of his maternal grandmother, he went to school at Our Lady of Lourdes in Devonport


before transferring to a public school that saved the family some money. He left after year 9 to take up the apprenticeship. Tony met and married his wife Toni when he was 26, and they have one son. He spent several years in retail after working as a carpenter, and later became an administrator at TAFE. Nowadays the two ‘Tonys’ work voluntarily for Vinnies in Tasmania; he is the president of the State Council while she manages the Centres of Charity. ‘Through hard work I’ve gone from poverty to being middle class,’ he says. ‘I’m by no means rich, but there was never any money when I was growing up. We were poor, although I never felt poor. I mean, we had what we really needed – and I always felt loved.’ Tony has heard that he resembles his mother psychologically as well as physically, but otherwise he has no recollection of her. At school he felt her absence as an ache in the heart. ‘I knew the other kids were going back home to see their mums and mine wasn’t there.’ His grandmother took good care of him, and when she was old Tony returned the favour by inviting her to live with him and Toni. ‘It was the least I could do to repay her,’ he says.

‘There was never any money when I was growing up. We were poor, although I never felt poor.’

The Muirs live in Devonport and are closely connected with the local community. Tony is an acolyte in his local parish and was a close friend to the former Archbishop of Hobart Eric D’Arcy. These days the Muirs go to great lengths to see their son Nigel, who works for the Department of Immigration in the Middle East and now lives in Lebanon with his wife Genevieve and their daughter Bethany. ‘Nigel is the nicest, kindest person I have ever met,’ says Tony. ‘He’s not like me. I have a hard side. But Nigel only wants to do nice things for people. If he can’t do that he wouldn’t know what to do.’ Earlier this year, father and son travelled to Gallipoli for the first time in what Tony describes as ‘an unforgettable experience’. ‘I’ve read a bit about it,’ he says. ‘I’m no expert but I’ve seen documentaries,

Historic election in Wellington T he St Vincent de Paul Society of New Zealand has elected its first woman National President. Liz Chiappini also became the only second-generation president in the Society’s history. Her late father Norman Gusscott, a prominent Wellington businessman, was the National President from 1965-1970. ‘I think Dad has been stirring in Heaven,’ Liz said after her election in March. ‘He often reminded us that life has been kind to us so we must give back to our community and to be aware of those around us who were less fortunate.’ Prior to the election, Liz told voters that she would be proud to lead an organisation that is based on ‘love in action’, and that with an adult family she had the time to do it. Liz presented a 12-point action plan and said she hoped to stimulate others, implement some of the actions and see the Society meet the needs of a changing world. Her vision for the Society in New Zealand is three-fold: to build on the existing activities of the National Council, such as relationships with the Catholic Church, youth, training and twinning; to become more active in issues of The Record – Winter 2006 Page 12

and from the readings I still had no idea about what they had to face. It’s a cliff! Everyone in this country that has come after them owes their life to those men.’ Reflecting on his own life story, Tony sees nothing extraordinary in it, although he concedes he has a special understanding for the young and for people who are going through tough times. ‘I’ve been pretty low at times,’ he says. ‘But really I feel very, very lucky.’ While his life has given him a deep compassion for the people he serves in Vinnies, his service on the battlefield has left him with a deep passion for the Australian flag. Tony’s eyes well up with tears when he speaks of the effect it has on him. ‘Whenever I see it I just get tingly – I can’t explain why. And don’t even mention The Last Post!’ He could never support a new design for the flag. ‘I know we live in a multicultural country, but why do you need to change the flag? I know people who died under that flag.’ This year Tony turns 60. He regularly goes on long walks around Tasmania’s central districts and is in good health. One day he knows he will receive a military funeral. ‘Pity the person who doesn’t arrange the funeral right!’ he says. He would probably turn in his coffin if the flag didn’t look as it did when he was 19.

social justice that directly affect those the Society sees; and to grow the Society especially with young adults. ‘We have 2300 Young Vinnies in our schools in New Zealand, and some of our Catholic Colleges are including Vinnies in their curriculum,’ she said. ‘The area we need to grow is the Young Adults, and a major step forward will be further involvement with Young Adults within the university system and in other areas. ‘We are hoping to introduce projects which will attract and be run by young adults.’ The Society in New Zealand comprises 25 Area Councils and 164 Conferences. Liz is Area President for the Hutt Valley/Wairarapa region. One of her grandfathers was Vice President of the inaugural National Board in 1932.


Breach of duty The new breaching regime is not only bad news for people on welfare, it is immoral, Dr John Falzon tells Stephen Crittenden.

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he St Vincent de Paul Society says the Federal Government’s new breaching regime for people on welfare is immoral. Under the scheme, people who are breached but deemed to be extremely vulnerable, will be referred to the churches and charitable organisations to receive one-off payments of up to $650 to manage their cases. Stephen Crittenden interviewed the Society’s Dr John Falzon for the Religion Report on ABC Radio National. John Falzon: Under the new Welfare to Work legislation, two major groups of people are going to be brought within the scope of the breaching regime. That’s people in receipt of parenting payments, especially single parents, but not exclusively, and also people with disabilities who are able to work more than 15 hours a week. Now when these people are breached, there are going to be some cases judged by Centrelink as being extremely vulnerable, and they are going to be referred to agencies that have taken up a contract to case manage the extremely vulnerable, and those agencies are going to give assistance in packages of up to $650 of government funds to the people who’ve been breached. What’s Vinnies’ position on this? Well, No.1 we consider the entire breaching regime to be unconscionable and immoral. It takes away dignity, it doesn’t offer hope, it doesn’t act as a mechanism for really enabling people to move from welfare to work. It punishes people who are already vulnerable, it deprives people of their human rights, of their dignity, of bread on the table for children in many cases. Stephen Crittenden: And you’re not having any part of it. John Falzon: Exactly. We’ve always held that position and as far as this idea of institutionalising charity and making people feel an even greater sense of humiliation in that even though the government is acknowledging that they’re going to be in a dangerous situation and is funding this period of crisis, it’s going to do so via a charity, to make people feel that the charity is being institutionalised and they’re being forced to go to a charity… Stephen Crittenden: Yes, I don’t really understand what’s in it for the government. They aren’t really getting people off welfare, and even though the churches are looking after them, the government’s still going to be paying. John Falzon: Yes, it’s more symbolic I think in this case. That’s what we really find unconscionable, that this is a return to some very old models of charity as being a means

of really making people feel like they are to blame for their poverty. There’s a whole moral discourse involved here that we will have no part of. You know the wonderful educational theorist, Paulo Freire, and we really take his lead in Vinnies, when he spoke very beautifully about needing to engage in a prophetic denunciation of the bad news, in order to engage in a prophetic annunciation of the good news. We denounce the breaching regime as bad news; there is no good news in any element of it. We do announce the good news that there is an alternative vision for Australia, and that’s one of our major concerns with this Welfare to Work legislation, which some of our members refer to as Welfare to Work to Welfare – because in fact we don’t believe it’s going to have those sorts of positive outcomes that everyone would hope for.

We believe that it lacks vision. Not only does it lack fairness but even from an economic rationalist point of view, it lacks strategic vision, and as the Book of Proverbs says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Well where is the vision in pushing people who are vulnerable into that low end of the labour market without any adequate opportunity for skilling, for education, at a time when most commentators will acknowledge we’re facing a skills crisis, at a time when Australia can in fact have a competitive edge, by investing in education skills and innovation. Stephen Crittenden: Presumably some of these people are still going to be coming to you for help, whether the government’s reimbursing you or not? John Falzon: That’s true, absolutely, and Vinnies will never cease giving assistance to people who have been breached, and they will continue to come to us. We won’t be accepting government money to do that, we won’t be entering into a contract, but what we’ve always maintained is yes, we will give the charitable assistance, we will be there as a charity because we consist of so many wonderful people who are giving up their time to do that, and because they believe in a fair go. St Vincent de Paul Society Australia Page 13


Stephen Crittenden: Doesn’t that let the government off the hook? John Falzon: Well there’s the second part of the equation. We’ll give the charity to people but what we have always maintained is charity is fine, but what these people deserve is justice, and we’ll keep clamouring for that justice. Stephen Crittenden: The Salvation Army says it will probably take up this proposal. The St Vincent de Paul Society says the breaching regime is immoral and you won’t have any part of it. Shouldn’t the churches be at one on this issue? John Falzon: Well our position as far as – I’m not commenting on churches, but I will comment on agencies – we have taken the position quite rightly in my opinion, that we in no way wish to give any direction or call to other

‘We’ve actually received some legal advice to suggest that there m ay be a case whereby the provisions in the Welfare to Work legislation ca n contribute to coercion of sole parents to breach their duty of care to their ch ildren, which is potentially a criminal offence.’

agencies as to how to conduct themselves. They must follow their own charters, their own rules, their own rationales for how to engage in this quite vexed social policy area. Stephen Crittenden: But if you’re calling the government immoral, surely the implication is another church welfare agency who takes part in this immoral regime is participating in immorality if you like. John Falzon: Well, as I said, we’re not commenting on the decisions of other agencies as to how they engage in this entire process, but for Vinnies our message is clear: in our Rule as a matter of fact it says where injustice, inequality, poverty or exclusion are due to unjust economic, political or social structures, or to inadequate or unjust legislation, the Society should speak out clearly against the situation, always with charity, with the aim of contributing to and demanding improvements. For those people who might think that’s quite strongly worded, it’s not nearly as strongly worded as those words from the Prophet Isaiah, ‘Woe betide those who enact unjust laws and draft oppressive legislation depriving the poor of justice, robbing the weakest of my people of their rights, plundering the widow and despoiling the fatherless.’ That’s where we take our lead from, Stephen. We’re placed in a position by our members because of what they see every day in giving assistance to the people who come to us. Stephen Crittenden: Let’s turn to a couple of other related welfare issues. Vinnies is also particularly concerned about what you’re describing as the nexus between the government’s Welfare to Work legislation and the new IR legislation. The Record – Winter 2006 Page 14

John Falzon: Yes. Look, what we see is that the people who are going to be pushed by the Welfare to Work legislation into that low end of the labour market, are also the people conceivably, who will be subjected to compliance with Australian workplace agreements that potentially will not be family friendly, that will be deleterious to family life. We’ve actually received some legal advice to suggest that there may be a case whereby the provisions in the Welfare to Work legislation can contribute to coercion of sole parents to breach their duty of care to their children, which is potentially a criminal offence. Stephen Crittenden: But you’re also suggesting that the Welfare to Work legislation won’t just have the effect of pushing single mothers say back into the lower end of the workforce, it will also have the effect of pushing them on to individual contracts, which may be deleterious to them. John Falzon: Conceivably, yes. We’re not in any way saying that that is necessarily going to be the case, but it is certainly on the cards as far as we can see, that that’s precisely where Australian Workplace Agreements will be put in place, and who knows what kind of conditions will be removed from those working arrangements, particularly where children are involved. Stephen Crittenden: OK, just finally, Dick Warburton and Peter Hendy, two Australian businessmen, have this week presented the Federal government with their review of Australia’s tax rates. And the Prime Minister has said that his first priority in this year’s budget is support for lower middle-income families. What is St Vincent de Paul Society saying about tax reform? John Falzon: What we’re saying No.l is that the Treasurer is quite correct in citing the OECD figures that we’ve got the eighth lowest tax to GDP ratio, and that we’re the secondlowest spending amongst the OECD countries. We have always considered two major points as far as the debate on tax reform. One is that the effective marginal tax rates that affect precisely the people moving from Welfare to Work are incredibly high, up to the 70 per cent mark, and this acts as a major disincentive for people moving from Welfare to Work. Stephen Crittenden: Labor’s Wayne Swan is saying this, too, this week. John Falzon: Yes, quite right. Secondly though, we have always maintained that the far greater deficit in Australian society is not so much in terms of the need for tax cuts, it’s in terms of our under-investment particularly in social infrastructure, particularly in the costs that hit low income households, and middle income households in areas of education, health, transport, housing, child care, these are the sorts of costs that impact heavily because it’s a matter of shifting from the public purse to the private pocket. We would dearly love to see an intelligent and strategic investment in these areas of Australian society rather than putting a few dollars into people’s pockets, because this would have not only a great effect on those individual households, but as a whole, collectively as a nation, it would enable us to go forward and would stand in opposition to the narrow-minded punitive welfare reforms and IR reforms that we’ve seen. This transcript is published courtesy of ABC Radio National’s ‘Religion Report’, first broadcast on April 5, 2006.


Federal Budget boosts inequality

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he 2006 Federal Budget failed to address structural disadvantage in Australia today, according to the CEO of Vinnies’ National Council, Dr John Falzon. ‘It does nothing to address the failure of the housing market to ensure that all Australians have a place that they can call home. It does nothing to address affordable transport options to enable people living in deprived areas access to fruitful employment,’ said Dr Falzon. ‘The tax cuts and other benefits to low and middle income families are welcome but they do not address the problems experienced by Australians who are structurally locked out. This Budget does not help generate equality of opportunity. It does not invest

strategically in health, education and housing. It does nothing to promote a more cohesive Australia. ‘It is an irresponsible use of marketdriven ideology when the most vulnerable and voiceless members of society are denied a share of the generated wealth. Governments have a responsibility to do what markets cannot. ‘How is the $10.8 billion surplus being applied to provide future prosperity and fairness for all Australians? ‘How is this embarrassment of riches being invested in the social infrastructure needs of today and tomorrow, so that all will have the opportunity to participate?

‘Our recent Issues Paper, Winners and Losers: The Story of Costs, by Vinnies researcher Gavin Dufty, found that since 1990 there has been a growth in inequality due to changes in the cost burdens of various goods and services, especially hitting those reliant on the rental housing market and public transport. We see nothing in the Budget to reverse these trends of inequality. ‘Additional funding for childcare places does not address the structural problems experienced by families living in the so-called postcodes of poverty, especially in the case of sole parents trying to gain employment. ‘Where is the investment in Australia’s 1.3 million children living in poverty?

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Photographs published with the permission of the Wadeye community.

EYES WI The Record – Winter 2006 Page 16


This picture was taken near the Wadeye air strip at the end of the Young Vinnies’ 10-day immersion program. During the wet season, the road to Darwin is closed and the community is accessible only by air.

DE OPEN St Vincent de Paul Society Australia Page 17


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t’s amazing how much two weeks in another country can change the way you think. The way you see other people, other cultures and the way you see yourself. And while I never left the boundaries of Australia, I had indeed ventured with seven other people into a world very far removed from my own. Locals spoke a different language, experienced different threats, climate and opportunities. I was in a foreign land. For the first time, I was seeing Australia as Aboriginal peoples do. Not as one country, but as hundreds of small countries with very definite boundaries (see the map of Aboriginal Australia). I did not set expectations because I knew that I would be wrong. The only thing I knew with any great certainty is that I knew nothing at all. That’s not to say that I went into the program with a pessimistic or negative outlook. On the contrary, acknowledging my ignorance prepared me to go into this The Record – Winter 2006 Page 18

experience with my eyes and ears wide open and ready to learn and understand as much as possible. And I learnt a great deal from my experience. One of the most important observations was that the knowledge I gained is merely a drop in the ocean. There is so much more to explore, to question, to reflect on. Our team was led by Northern Territory Youth Coordinator Benita De Vincentiis and Claire Stacey of Western Australia. The rest of the team included Marty McGauran and Julia Ottobre from Victoria, Dave Callaghan and Michael Gubbins from the Territory and Alice Walters and I from New South Wales. It surprised and comforted me that within a few hours the team had already bonded and become supportive of each other. In a couple of days we would all come to rely heavily Main photo: Children ran with the idea of making kites at a morning craft session (inset).


on one another’s support, not to mention living in each other’s pockets. This immersion program was designed with two main objectives. One was to produce a holiday program for the kids. The second was to immerse ourselves in this new culture and to build relationships with those we met.

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ow quickly plans can change. On the morning we were due to take our charter flight from Darwin to Palumpa we received word that our destination was virtually shut down due to severe flooding. It’s amazing to see the emotions of eight Vincentians change from excitement to utter despondence in an instant. But in true Vinnies Youth style, we bounced back. Over the course of a few hours, we had our first instance of ‘letting it all go’. After a day’s worth of hard work and a phone permanently attached to Benita’s ear, we were on a different course … headed in the direction of Wadeye

(‘Wad-ay-yeah’). Near the West Coast of NT, an hour’s flight from Darwin, this remote community is the largest Aboriginal community in the Territory. Wadeye is a community about five times the size of Palumpa. There are about 2500 people there, 900 of those are kids. In terms of remote communities, you might say that Palumpa is a ‘country town’ and Wadeye is the ‘big smoke’. Wadeye seems to hold a dubious reputation in the Territory, known mostly for its ongoing ‘in-house’ conflict. Walking down the street of this larger than anticipated community, I definitely felt a knock to my confidence. I think a few of us in the team wondered how we could possibly make a significant difference in such a large community. Face painting proved to be a very popular activity. Alice (top left) painted some faces many times over as the kids enjoyed it so much they washed one design off to try another. Others turned the brushes on Benita (top right) and Alicia (bottom right).

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Don’t get me wrong, 900 kids at an activity would have been a novel challenge, but having to start afresh was daunting. Not necessarily in case lots of kids showed up, but because they might not. What if we weren’t truly welcome in this community?

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n that first day in Wadeye I figured that it didn’t matter if we didn’t reach 900 children. One would be enough for me and I’d work from there. There is nothing better or more rewarding then the innocence and warmth of children’s laughter. And so I began immersing myself in daily life in Wadeye. It surprised me that I felt so comfortable living in a community whose reputation was so ‘colourful’. The people were beautiful; caring and welcoming. We quickly became comfortable with the standard two-question intro: ‘What’s your name?’ and ‘What country you from?’ The Record – Winter 2006 Page 20

I relished the fact that many of the older women we built relationships with really looked after us … like surrogate mothers. They were so generous. One took a bunch of our team out bush to fish and gather food while another shared the intimate story of her father’s apparition of Mary as depicted in a mural at the Catholic Church. One of my most treasured memories was sitting with a bunch of about 30 elderly women in the Respite Centre. We were not talking, we were just being – absorbing the Clockwise from top left: Women of the Wadeye community welcomed the Young Vinnies members to their beautiful country; pictured outside the Catholic Church are Theodora (left), a community elder who told the story of Mary’s apparition to her father, and Dolly (right), who looked out for the team during their stay. The sunsets provided stunning closure to exciting but exhausting days. The team attended Easter Saturday vigil at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart parish in Wadeye. This Tindale map of Australia shows the many Aboriginal countries of which Wadeye is one. The main street goes from the airport through the town, past the school, pool, clinic, council offices and recreation hall.


tradition, the life experience and the wisdom of these old women. It really touched me when they asked about our story and shared stories about their own lives. Relationships like these have made me keener than ever to maintain an ongoing relationship with the people of Wadeye.

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hile I was there I tried to understand why things were the way they were. And then I realised that my questions were based on my Western/Anglo ideas. In identifying the difference, I came to realise that it is one thing to acknowledge and accept difference and something else entirely to feel comfortable with it. Through this experience I became increasingly aware of the notion of identity: what it means to people in general, what it means to me and its extreme importance to Aboriginal peoples. I was aware more then ever of the fragility of identity. I wondered about how my work in Vinnies could be more

sensitive to this. How do I nurture the spirit of those in need by allowing them to explore and feel comfortable with their own unique identity? The Vinnies mission deals with this in the notion of meeting with those in need on their own terms, empowering them to help themselves. While I felt very comfortable living in community, I struggled with the impact of Western culture on identity, lifestyle, language, fashion and relationships. There was an amazing display of traditional Aboriginal culture colliding with Western civilisation. My time in Wadeye was non-stop excitement, learning and exhaustion. I also felt a deep sense of peace and simplicity there – and that is not meant to be patronising. The road into Palumpa opened during the team’s stay at Wadeye. It was still under a little water when they got there (top) but the kids ran out to meet them. Elsewhere, it was deep enough for somersaults off the roadside railings (bottom).

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The simplicity of life drew me in and highlighted the most essential element of life both in Wadeye and everywhere: family. Other concerns are pushed aside in the knowledge that your family will be there to support you no matter what. The love that existed within these families was magical and they shared their love with us. In that regard, the community has an embarrassment of riches that it is only too happy to share around. This town was not where we had intended to be, but I think it is exactly where we were meant to be and I am so grateful for that.

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uckily, glimpses of the dry season dried the road from Wadeye to Palumpa enough for us to cross in a four-wheel drive. We attended Palm Sunday Mass there and also spent a full day running activities with the Palumpa kids. It was really special to spend at least one day with the Palumpa community. The Record – Winter 2006 Page 22

As time progressed in Wadeye, I was filled with enthusiasm and passion to make a difference. I quickly came to realise that there is no such thing as ‘short term goals’ in Wadeye. More importantly, change cannot come from me, or any other ‘foreigner’. Change has to be decided upon by the locals and leadership needs to be shared. The idea of walking together as opposed to in front or behind is so apt. It cannot go unsaid that the Immersion Team is eternally grateful for the support of National Council and Northern Territory SVdP. We would also like to thank Benita and Claire for their leadership and Bill, President of Northern Territory Vinnies, who offered such a warm welcome. Alicia Webster is the Diocesan Youth Representative for Broken Bay, NSW. Clockwise from top left: During activities run by Vinnies Youth at Palumpa, a young girl designed her own T-shirt; kids had fun with parachute material; and Marty joined in Giant Ball games. Opposite: Children of Palumpa with Benita.


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Introducing John Campbell

They’re all ours Inmates of Broome Prison have made a colourf ul contribution to the St Vincent de Paul Society, by painting several of the standard issue blue bins with different strokes. The bins are no longer subject to as much graffiti and continue to serve the Broome community, as they do communities around Australia, albeit under a unique guise. The Most Reverend Christopher Saunders, DD, Bishop of Broome, often refers to the Society as ‘the face of the Catholic Church in Broome’.

t On 24 February 2006, the St Vincen de Paul Society in Queensland elected John Campbell as the new State President. John was thrilled to take on this challenging and exciting position within the St Vincent de Paul Society. He has had a long involvement in the Catholic Church and Society. Baptised at St Francis Xavier Church in Moree, he spent most of his time in Nor thern NSW, and moved to Brisbane in 1993. John joined the St Vincent de Paul cis Society as a member of the St Fran in End of Assisi Conference in West 1999, and in 2000 was inducted to the Society. Dur ing the same year John was elected President of his Conference.

Living with HIV

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A Melbourne man living with HIV+ wants the Society to turn its words into actions. The man, who we will call John for the sake of this article, asked not to be named because he was afraid of discrimination against his family. John read the Society’s resolutions from the Panasco conference, which were published in the Autumn edition of The Record. He said the resolutions sounded good but he wanted to see concrete actions. ‘It’s all well and good to put resolutions together but they are useless unless they are physically accountable,’ said John. ‘I understand it is difficult but unless there are actions it’s just a big waste of time.’ More than 200 delegates from across Asia attended the conference in Perth in January. The conference delivered several resolutions on the Society’s response to the HIV/AIDS issue. The resolutions said the Society’s response had been inadequate,

Jim Grealish presides in Victoria On Monday 3 April 2006, New Zealand-born Jim Grealish took the reins as the new Victorian State President of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Jim Patrick Grealish is the 14th State President and has over 30 years of extensive management experience in New Zealand and Australia and has provided much assistance to other Catholic boards in the last 15 years. Jim’s involvement with the Society began over 10 years ago as a member of the Beaumaris/Black Rock Conferences. Since 1997, Jim has served as Treasurer for the organisation, overseeing its development of efficient and effective financial accountability including State-wide consolidated accounts.

that it would focus on providing medications and care for children and that we request governments to provide subsidies for HIV/AIDS drugs. John said the Society in Australia should start with educating its members about HIV/AIDS, before it started trying to help deal with the issue. ‘You’ve really got to get them to understand and not just go out there and judge people,’ he said. ‘St Vincent’s are supposed to be helping those in need, whatever their needs are.’ John said he wanted the Society to organise people living with HIV/ AIDS to talk to its volunteers about what it is like to live with the illness. He said he hoped Vinnies members could be the catalyst to start breaking down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. ‘Are they willing to listen?’ he said. -- Steve Drill


Part III of this four-part series looks at how to support someone with psychosis. Words Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorn

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sychosis is a general term to describe a mental health problem in which a person has lost some contact with reality. There are severe disturbances in thinking, emotion and behaviour. Psychosis severely disrupts a person’s life. Relationships, work and self-care are difficult to initiate and/or maintain. The main psychotic illnesses are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder), psychotic depression, schizoaffective disorder and drug-induced psychosis. Psychotic illnesses are not among the most common mental health problems. Psychosis affects less than 1 per cent of Australian adults in any year. However, over a lifetime the risk of developing schizophrenia is 1 per cent and bipolar disorder 2 per cent. People in the early stages of suffering from psychosis often go undiagnosed for a year or more before receiving treatment. A major reason for this is that psychosis often begins in late adolescence or early adulthood and the early symptoms involve behaviours and emotions which are common in this age group. Many young people will have some of these symptoms without developing a psychosis.

Symptoms of psychosis Changes in emotion and motivation Depression Anxiety Irritability Suspiciousness Blunted, flat or inappropriate emotion Change in appetite Reduced energy and motivation Changes in thinking and perception Difficulties with concentration or attention Sense of alteration of self, others or the outside world (for example, feeling that self or others have changed or are acting differently in some way) Odd ideas Unusual perceptual experiences (for example, a reduction or greater intensity of smell, sound or colour) Changes in behaviour Sleep disturbance Social isolation or withdrawal Reduced ability to carry out work and social roles

It is believed that psychosis is caused by a combination of factors including genetics, biochemistry, stress and other factors. Detailed information on these factors can be found in the complete Mental Health First Aid kit, which is available free to download at www.mhfa.org.au. A person showing symptoms of early psychosis may eventually be diagnosed as having one of the following psychotic disorders.

Schizophrenia The term schizophrenia means ‘fractured mind’ and refers to changes in mental function where thoughts and perceptions become disordered. About 1 per cent of people develop schizophrenia at some stage in their lives. Nearly three-quarters of sufferers are young people between the ages of 16 and 25 when first affected. Schizophrenia affects males and females equally, but males tend to develop it earlier than females. The onset of the illness may be rapid, with symptoms developing over several weeks, or it may be slow and develop over months or years. About a third of people who develop schizophrenia have only one episode and fully recover, another third have multiple episodes but are well in between, and a third have a life-long illness. The major symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, hallucinations, thinking difficulties, loss of drive, blunted emotions and social withdrawal.

Bipolar disorder People suffering from bipolar disorder (manicdepressive illness) have extreme mood swings, fluctuating between periods of depression, mania and normal mood. It can take a long time for bipolar disorder to be diagnosed correctly because the person needs to have had episodes of both depression and mania. For the symptoms of depression, refer to MHFA in the Summer 05/06 Record. Bipolar disorder affects 2 per cent of people, with males and females being equally affected. It is commonly first diagnosed when people are in their 20s.Common symptoms in mania include increased energy and overactivity, elated mood, need less sleep than usual, irritability, rapid thinking and speech, lack of inhibitions, grandiose delusions and lack of insight.

Psychotic depression Sometimes depression can be so intense it causes psychotic symptoms. For example, the person may St Vincent de Paul Society Australia Page 25


have delusions involving guilt, severe physical illness or hopelessness.

Schizoaffective disorder Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as the person has symptoms of both illnesses.

Drug-induced psychosis This is a psychosis brought on by the use of drugs. The symptoms usually appear quickly and last a short time (from a few hours to days) until the effects of the drug wear off. The most common symptoms are visual hallucinations, disorientation and memory problems. Drugs that can cause psychosis are marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines (speed) and magic mushrooms. Although drugs can sometimes be the sole cause of psychosis, in other cases they can trigger another psychotic illness such as schizophrenia in someone who is vulnerable to it. People sometimes take drugs as a way of coping with a developing psychotic illness, but these drugs can make the symptoms worse and the disorder difficult to diagnose.

First Aid for Psychosis Step 1: Assess risk of suicide or harm People who are psychotic may be at risk of selfharm or, occasionally, harming others. Both these risks need to be considered.

When the person is at risk of selfharm About one in ten people living with schizophrenia completes suicide. If you think the person is at risk of hurting themselves, check this out by some direct questioning. Ask such questions as: • Have you often thought of death or dying? • Do you have a specific suicide plan? • Have you made serious suicide attempts before? • Can I be sure you will not act on suicidal ideas? • Have you thought about the effect your death will have upon your family or friends? • What help could make it easier for you to cope with your problems at the moment? Contrary to common belief, this type of questioning does not encourage a person to pursue suicidal behaviour. Further information on how to provide help to a suicidal person appeared in the Summer 05/06 Record.

When the person is at risk of harming others A very small percentage of the people with psychotic disorders may threaten violence. The Record – Winter 2006 Page 26

Unfortunately, the media tends to publicise the few people with mental illness who become violent. In fact, violence accompanying a mental illness is not common. Violence is more common if alcohol or other drugs are involved. If you think the person is at risk of harming others: • Do not get involved physically to stop the violence (for example a fight) or to restrain the violent person, unless in self-defence. • Call the police. Tell them that the person has a mental illness and needs to get medical help. Ask them to send a plain-clothes police officer if available, so that the person will feel less threatened. • Try to create a calm, non-threatening atmosphere. Talk slowly, quietly, firmly and simply. Keep the environment undistracting, for example, turn off the TV or radio. Keep at a reasonable distance and avoid direct continuous eye contact or touching the person. • It is best if you are both seated, preferably sideby-side rather than face-to-face. If the person sits down and you remain standing, the person can feel threatened or think you are trying to be superior. Perhaps you can give or share something to help create some trust, such as a cup of tea or coffee, or a cigarette. • Do not try to reason with acute psychosis. Try not to express irritation or anger. Don’t threaten, shout or criticise. Remember that they may be acting the way they are because of delusions or voices that are very real and very frightening to them. • Express empathy for the person’s emotional distress. However, it is important that you do not pretend that the delusions or voices are real for you. • Comply with reasonable requests. This will provide the person with a feeling that they are somewhat ‘in control’.

Step 2: Listen non-judgementally • Listen to the person without judging them as weak. These problems are not due to weakness or laziness. • Speak calmly, clearly and in short sentences. • Do not be critical of them. Don’t express your frustration at the person for having such symptoms. • Don’t give glib advice such as ‘pull yourself together’. • Avoid confrontation unless necessary to prevent harmful or dangerous acts. • Do not argue with a person about their delusions and hallucinations. Accept that these irrational


perceptions are real for them. However, do not pretend these hallucinations or delusions are real to you. Do not try to humour them or agree with them.

Step 3: Give reassurance and information When the person is in a psychotic state, it is usually difficult and inappropriate to try to give them information about psychosis. When the person is more lucid and in touch with reality, try to help the person to realise that: • You want to help them; • They have a real medical condition; • Psychosis (schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) is not a common illness but it is very well known and researched; • Psychosis is not a weakness or character defect; • Effective medications are available to relieve their confusion and distress. Do not make promises you cannot keep and do not lie. This can create an atmosphere of mistrust and add to the person’s distress.

Step 4: Encourage person to get appropriate professional help It is important to get the person to medical help as early in the illness as possible. A GP is the first professional to turn to. A GP can make an initial diagnosis, prescribe medication and refer the person to a psychiatrist for specialist assessment and advice on medication. Most psychiatrists work in private practice but some are attached to hospitals. A person who is severely psychotic may need to have a short stay in hospital to stabilise them. Most regions in Australia have a mental health crisis team that provides assessment, direction to appropriate help, telephone support and information. Many community health centres have a mental health team which will provide ongoing help to a person with psychosis to manage medications, selfcare, housing and finances, and will give general support and counselling. Family and friends are a very important source of support for a person with a psychotic illness. A person is less likely to relapse if they have a good relationship with their family. Family and friends can help by: • Listening to the person without judging them or being critical of them; • Keeping their life as stress-free as possible to reduce the chance of relapse; • Encouraging the person to get appropriate professional help; • Checking if the person is feeling suicidal and

taking immediate action if they are; • Providing the same support as they would for a physically ill person. These include sending get-well cards, flowers, phoning or visiting the person, and helping out if they cannot manage. When a person is very psychotic, they may lack insight into their illness and see no need to seek help. There is no easy solution if a psychotic person is unwilling to seek professional help. However, the following may be helpful: • Call the mental health crisis team and discuss the situation with them; • Talk to other people who have been in a similar situation, for example at a mental health carers’ support group; • Make an appointment for yourself with a GP or a mental health professional to talk about the problem; • Contact your local mental health service to be informed about the legal provisions for involuntary admission to hospital. Each state and territory has provision for mentally ill people to be admitted to hospital without their consent.

Step 5: Encourage self-help strategies Many people with a psychotic illness also have depression and/or anxiety disorder. The self-help strategies recommended for depression and anxiety are also appropriate for people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, they are not to be used as the main source of treatment. Mental health professionals must be consulted. Support groups for sufferers and their families may be very helpful.

This is an edited extract from Mental Health First Aid, developed at the Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, by Betty Kitchener and Anthony Jorn. For a free, complete version of Mental Health First Aid, go to www.mhfa.org.au. St Vincent de Paul Society Australia Page 27


Well done

Addiction and love

The Autumn issue of The Record I am sure is the best one produced since we have gone over to the new format. The articles of different length were of great interest to Vincentians; a number contained many very good ideas for conferences; they enlightened and reinforced our beliefs. Also, there were great photos that help us put faces to names. Keep up the good work and remember that parishioners like to read this Catholic magazine as well. Peter Commerford Bentleigh VIC

I refer to the article ‘Poverty as Violence’ in your Autumn 2006 publication, which I found most informative and interesting. My wife and I have been associated with Vinnies in Darwin for many years, and fully support the wonderful work done by Vincentians here. However, I would like to know how much priority is being given by the St Vincent de Paul Society towards trying to rehabilitate those who repeatedly seek assistance due to their addiction to alcohol abuse, drugs, gambling etc. Helping these poor people with the basic needs of food and shelter time and again is indeed great work, but is there a proper plan in place to tackle much needed education and rehabilitation for those desperately requiring it? I agree that there are different levels of poverty in Australia. However, I believe the worst causes should be given the most attention. Les Fern Nightcliff NT

I write to congratulate you and your editorial team on The Record. I find it a very fine production – interesting, relevant, diverse and attractively presented. There is a great blend of material: some news and information, some thought-provoking and challenging pieces, and plenty of human stories – the sort that lie at the heart of the SVDP mission. I look forward to the issues and invariably draw some inspiration from each one. I have also used some ideas in our College newsletters! Please convey my compliments to everyone associated with its production. Br Peter Carroll fms Headmaster, Marist College North Shore North Sydney NSW

Spirit-fuelled life As an elderly Vincentian I was interested to read the list of benchmarks, or ‘virtues’ (weakness, compassion, courage, listening and love), which are nurtured by Sr Gwen Tamlyn’s work as a Vincentian (‘Journey of a Lifetime’, Autumn Record). She reminded me of the virtues which nurtured the work of our founders. We can see the breadth of their Faith in God through their acceptance of the doctrinal teaching of the Church; the trusting Hope which obviously characterised their prayer lives; their demonstrated Love of God above all things, including themselves; their great Fortitude in coping with human weakness and organisational problems; their uprightness of behaviour or Justice of their practical The Record – Winter 2006 Page 28

decision-making; and last but not least, the Temperance with which they controlled their own lives and were peaceful in the face of challenges to their authority and judgement. Vincentian work in today’s fragmenting society is not easy. It surely calls for a renewed spirituality, based on awareness of the operational areas of the Christian virtues and the manner of their dependence on the wisdom, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of God, which we believe are given by the Holy Spirit according to our individual needs when we ask. Raymond Harty Yeronga QLD

Stretched to the limit In the Autumn issue of The Record there is an article on page 25 relating to Mental Health First Aid. While it may be a good article, who is it being addressed to? Not SVDP home visitors surely, because we are not in

the business of finding out the medical conditions of people we visit at home, or even assessing them. Our sole purpose is to give them love and compassion and understanding and assist them with their daily living needs. It must be remembered that we are ordinary family-orientated people with no particular qualifications except common sense and a desire to help people in need. And beside that we are just too busy to spend a lot of time with individuals and families seeking our help. Some conferences only have a few people to see each week and they can spend quality time with their clients, but in our conference (Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Woody Point, Qld) we are rostered on to see about 35 to 45 clients a week in their homes, and it is quite overwhelming at times. My wife Patricia and I do this every four to five weeks. We have hardly any time at all to follow up on people except when they request further home visits, and we certainly haven’t any time to do other work. We have 12 full members and six auxiliary members who answer phones, and we are all very good friends and help each other with our charity work without stinting, as the need arises. As well as that we are always in need of new members to help us but don’t have much luck in attracting them, despite assistance through our parish. So while these types of articles in The Record may be interesting, they are not for us. Perhaps for medical people, but not for us. Andy Thomson Margate QLD

Mini Vinnies It is wonderful to receive a publication where every article is interesting and worth reading. I was particularly interested to read about Mini Vinnies. What an excellent initiative – in my eyes this is one of the most exciting activities the Society is involved with. Movements like these on a grassroots level are at the core of our ministry. They ought to be fully supported and encouraged. Hayes van der Meer Stanmore NSW


Thanks for the Autumn edition of The Record. So beautifully presented and full of great articles. I was particularly drawn to the article on the Mini Vinnies, as our conference of St. Kevin’s is just now introducing the same into our parish school. Twenty-five children have come forward to initiate Mini Vinnies here, and we are thrilled. It was great to read about, and be encouraged by, the success of this endeavour in other places. The particular comment that did not sit well with me was ‘they share the same vision: to raise awareness of the Society among primary school students.’ I grant that this will be one result of introducing the Mini Vinnies, but I believe that the primary vision is outlined in the Mission Statement of the Society in general. That is: ‘Our Mission is to deepen the Catholic faith of the members and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ’. I believe that the greatest potential the Mini Vinnies has is to be a wonderful part of the building up of the Kingdom of God in the hearts of children and their families. God bless all those who participate in this marvellous endeavour. Paul Gleeson President of St Kevin’s Conference Cardiff NSW

The Rule in summary I read your Record for the first time very recently, despite my many years of involvement with SVDP here in Adelaide. In fact, local members of the St Anne’s conference were visiting my father, who was crippled with arthritis, on a regular basis in 1958. When the president finally retired in her late 70s, back in the 1990s, my sister and I joined the Newcomers to

revitalise the group. Since then, we have seen many in need and attended many meetings; more recently, we have examined the new Rule book. Hence, the reason for my note: to thank all those Vincentians of yesteryear for their support to our family generally, and to ask for a summary of the New Rule. Keep up the good work. J P Keane Adelaide SA

It makes sense I found the articles on Industrial Relations and ‘Advance Australia Fair’ (Summer 05/06 Record) most interesting. They both ‘encapsulated’ information I had come across but had had difficulty tying together in a suitable manner. I’m disappointed in modern journalists because they appear not to be able to ‘connect’ isolated information to show a ‘wider’ view/understanding of what’s really going on (as both these articles have done). I may be cynical, but I am coming to believe that reporting of ‘bits and pieces’ of information without ‘connecting’ the dots is by design rather than stupidity. The ‘dumbing down’ principle. I think I’m becoming a believer in ‘Conspiracy Theories’ – ‘Authoritative manipulation of Societies to ensure Global Control and Dictum.’ Charles Massag Richmond VIC

Church and state I wish to congratulate St Vincent de Paul for the stand they’re taking against the government as published in the Age (April 7, 2006) in regard to forcing disabled and single parents back to work. It’s to me the most appallingly

immoral, anti-social thing that this Government has ever done. And the fact that it’s being supported and driven by Catholic Members of Parliament is appalling. I don’t go to Mass too often but I think I’d be squeakier clean with God than they will be. Julia Harris Preston VIC I have a son who has schizophrenia and I do some volunteer work in the mental health area in relation to carer and people with mental illness and I just wanted to say congratulations on a position St Vincent de Paul have taken in relation to changes to disability pensions and so forth. I also have a professional background and I’m totally supportive of what you’ve done and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. And I think a lot of other welfare-related agencies should be taking that sort of position, especially the Salvation Army, who I intend to ask what they’re going to do. So I just wanted to say congratulations, well done and you’re showing great leadership in that area. And thank you very much. Barbara Robb Address withheld The Record welcomes letters but we reserve the right to edit them for legal reasons, space or clarity. Articles will be published only if full name, address and phone numbers are provided, although the address will be withheld from publication if so requested. Post to The Record, PO Box 373, Summer Hill, NSW 2130, or email to rita. williams@svdp.org.au Everyone whose letter is published in the next issue of The Record will receive a free book.

St Vincent de Paul Society Australia Page 29


Hope and resilience Desperate times draw daring displays of prosperity. By Sr Libby Rogerson

V

isiting, some years ago, a shanty town on the edge of Lima in Peru I was invited into the home of a couple with two children. Their home, carved into the side of the gritty, treeless mountain, was held together by an assortment of sheets of cardboard, plastic and odd bits of corrugated iron. The woman was expecting another child. As Lima sits squarely in the middle of a coastal desert there was not a blade of grass, nor a leaf, not even the slightest touch of green, except in a few old tin cans where flowers grew. Pedro had been a farmer, driven off his land by conflict between the military and rural guerrillas – he had to grow something. My work, at that time, had me criss-crossing the globe at various intervals. In Tanzania 80,000 Rwandan refugees sheltered beneath the ubiquitous UN blue plastic in mud huts. The Rwandans are great gardeners, and at the back of the refugee camp, gardens flourished with beans, cabbages and tomatoes. But what moved me most were the flowers planted in front of mud huts, giving a rare splash of colour in a sea of red mud – they had to grow something. Those flowers, grown in tin cans and beside mud huts, by people driven from their homes, their work and their families – people with absolutely nothing – are the ultimate sign, for me, of the resilience of the human spirit and the tenacity of hope. Being a current affairs ‘junkie’ I daily immerse myself in ABC radio news, SBS, The 7.30 Report and much else. Mostly I hear about corruption, disasters, violence, war and political machinations on a vast scale. The resilience is tested and hope is often in short supply. But nobody said the going was easy and that I would rush through life high on hope and eager for the next day’s sun to rise. As I write this we are mid way through Lent – cross and resurrection jostling for prime position. And herein lies the source of our hope. Jesus, on the face of it a failure, deserted The Record – Winter 2006 Page 30

by his friends, sold for a bag of silver and left to die at the hands of his conquerors. No easy death, wracked with pain, strung up on a cross between a couple of crooks. His despondent followers, plagued by guilt and distraught with loss, huddle together and wonder what will become of them. But such a situation is the breeding ground for Christian hope. So often peace and joy emerge from the very heart of violence and suffering. Extraordinary acts of courage and love are the product of loss and indescribable brutality. These acts of selflessness embed Christian hope in the struggle for justice which is kept alive by faith. Implicit in work for justice is the hope that we and the world can be transformed. That the reign of God characterised by love, peace, concern for others will liberate those enslaved by poverty, racism and neglect. Thomas Cullinan, a Benedictine writer on issues of social justice, describes Christian hope as ‘buoyant perseverance’ in the face of so much that is at odds with the reign of God. The people in the shanty towns of Peru and the refugee camps of Africa know more than a little about buoyant perseverance and the tenacity of hope. Lent and Easter give focus to our faith, albeit shaky at times, that life does triumph over death, hope over despair and that flowers bloom in the most desperate of places.

Sr Libby Rogerson ibvm is Social Justice Coordinator and Director of Caritas in the Diocese of Parramatta.


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