There was a 16 month period when Peakhurst Heights’ woman Marg Vella might justifiably have been known as “God’s bootlegger”.
Nothing illegal, mind you; just the passion of a dedicated Catholic woman raising funds for the residents and religious sisters of a small community in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea – women and children who are close to her heart.
The escapade began when she was offered cartons of wine by a generous Catholic businessman in Sydney’s Northern Suburbs.
Storing the goods in a chocka-block garage, she spent weekend after weekend darting between Sydney parishes, drumming up funds by way of donation and regaling parishioners with stories about her “PNG family” and the joy and need that she had witnessed first-hand.
The charitable wine touting has ended for now, and so have the shipments of donated goods after offers of transport – with any luck, only temporarily – dried up. (She has been sending shipping containers full of donated goods to the community since 2010.)
Marg’s new initiative is to speak to classrooms of children in Sydney’s primary schools – and she has already chalked up a good number.
Recently she showed a class a picture of a girl named Maria Joseph whose legs had been bowed by rickets (omitting other details of hardship). The kids’ eyes might threaten to mist over were it not for Marg’s big reveal: The Sisters, with Marg’s help, found a Polish Michaelite priest-surgeon who operated on Maria Joseph. Marg beamed as she showed The Catholic Weekly a recent picture of Maria playing soccer.
Marg’s charitable works ramped-up when her beloved husband, Wal, died suddenly.
Wal had been a willing cooperator in Marg’s efforts to collect donations of clothes and school books, and many other items that generous companies would volunteer to ship to PNG.
Years later she tried her hand at the “retiree thing”, heading off on safari to South Africa.
She burst into laughter as she described it as “one of the most depressing experiences” of her life.
“I don’t want to sit around drinking gin and tonic and watching Days of Our Lives,” Marg told The Catholic Weekly.
“The more glamorous it became, the more upset I became, staying in all these top quality hotels. It was lonely, and I thought, this isn’t for me.”
Another part of the trip provided a stark and welcome contrast when she visited a Catholic mission with her friends Helen and Chris.
“People had just arrived from (South) Sudan (where Muslim-Christian sectarian violence had caused people to flee) – a mother and father, and their three children.
“They had nowhere to live; there were six to one room. Helen and I went out and bought bath soap and filled the car with food.
“It was just so gratifying to really get among the people, not going to all these top quality hotels.”
If you are interested in Marg sharing her stories with your school, contact 0452 277 753.