I was at work when I got the call. It was the second time and I couldn’t hold back the tears.
Aunty A had attempted suicide. Again.
A lot of thoughts go through your head when you get a call like that – grief, anger, guilt, sadness. I thought of her four kids, her five siblings (including Mum), her father and what it would have meant to them if she hadn’t been stopped. But I also knew that this suicide attempt would mean additional stress on Mum and Aunty B who were desperately trying to hold it together after the first attempt.
Aunty A had always had mental health issues and, after separating from her husband, things started going downhill. She hoped that taking her children to Queensland would ease the pain but it only made it worse – being so far away from her support system and living in the midst of the Queensland floods last year were more than she could handle.
Before that suicide attempt, she sent a goodbye text to a friend in Melbourne, who quickly called the police and my mum. The next day, Mum and Aunty B were on a plane for Queensland to bring Aunty A and the kids home. Once settled back in Melbourne, we were faced with a huge question – what do we do next?
A house of three adults quickly became a full-house of seven – my parents, myself, my aunt and three of her kids – where stress levels were high and we had little clue where to turn. Aunty A needed help we couldn’t provide and the kids (aged five, 11 and 16) had no idea how bad things were.
Our home had always been pretty stable, without any significant illness or accidents, so we had very limited experience with mental health or suicide prevention. It was then that Mum and Aunty B discovered Windermere Child and Family Services, a charity in Melbourne’s South Eastern suburbs. Along with help other local services, Windermere helped my aunt get back on her feet but providing counselling services for Aunty A, getting the kids back into school and eventually moving the family into a temporary house nearby.
It took time but it was a huge relief. Even though I was helping out in every way I could, I could see the stress everyone was under and it was hard to know what to do.
In the end, I decided that there was only so much I could do to help Aunty A but I could help Windermere. So when the call went out for participants for the next Adventure Challenge to Vietnam, my partner Ryan and I jumped on board. I had some idea of the Adventure Challenge as my colleagues had participated earlier that year and the company I worked for was a major sponsor.
An Adventure Challenge is not a holiday – it is a fundraising event coupled with a physically demanding international experience. To take part, each participant commits to raising $6500, all of which stays in the local community to help provide services for people like my aunt. For an indoor (and frankly a little unfit) girl like me, a lot of training is involved to be able to keep up during the physical challenge.
In June our team of ten will fly into Hanoi and head east to spend three days kayaking the waterways of Halong Bay before heading into the Mai Chau region to trek the hill tribe areas for further three days. We will also spend a day volunteering at the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a Vietnamese charity that works with kids in crisis.
Since signing up to the Adventure Challenge we have heard story after story about the good work Windermere does – a program for young mothers to break the poverty cycle, providing jocks to a young boy breaking the circle of crime who had never worn underwear before, helping disabled children integrate with their peers and a new program (to be launched soon) for the prevention of youth suicide after a spike in suicide among young people in the area. And that is only the tip of a very big iceberg.
Windermere provides counselling, disability services, family day care, child care, housing support, victims’ assistance and counselling, as well as research and community development. The full breadth of services is a little staggering.
So far, the challenge has definitely lived up to its title. There have been many times in the past few months when I have questioned whether we would make the fundraising target and whether I would be able to keep up physically.
But at the end of the day, the Adventure Challenge is not about me, or Ryan, or even my aunt. It is about the 9000 people Windermere helped in 2010 and the thousands more in years to come.
To find out more about Windermere, visit their website here.
If you would like to donate to Windermere or the Adventure Challenge, visit here.
Nicole Williams is a reporter for a community paper in Melbourne’s South East. She loves good food, a good book and hates stepping out of her comfort zone.