real life

Meet the 73-year-old who welcomed 10 refugees into her home and wanted nothing in return.

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Helen Fuller is a grandmother of 10 whose accidental eavesdropping on a Melbourne train led to the most unlikely of circumstances.

The 73-year-old was travelling from Springvale to the City for a physio appointment. She was seated across from a “nice looking man” who was chatting away to the lady beside him. He was telling another woman he and his family were new to the country and hadn’t yet been outside of Melbourne, but one day hoped to see more.

All the while, Helen sat and listened.

She’d been thinking about her holiday house in the Victorian coastal town of Rye. She would often offer it to family or people she knew if she thought they needed a holiday. But lately, she’d been thinking about offering it to someone who never received the opportunity for a beach holiday; a respite for a family who usually couldn’t afford it.

Problem was, she didn’t quite know how to go about it.

As she sat, the man mentioned to his fellow passenger that he was a refugee from Afghanistan. Helen said it was “as if a light bulb went off”.

“I just thought, ‘Well, he’s the person’,” she said.

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“So I just leant over and said, ‘Excuse me, I hope you’ll forgive me, I just wondered if you would like to use our beach house for a week and take your family down there’.”

It was something Abuzar Mazoori, a part-time student and youth worker, never expected. His reaction was hesitant. Why would someone offer something for nothing in a country where he was an outsider? Why would a stranger on a train extend the hand of friendship?

They talked it over. Swapped numbers. The retired primary school teacher waited a few days, but the phone didn’t ring.

“I thought he was shy,” she said. “So I rang him.”

Of course she did. Ain’t nobody got power like a grandma.

The pier in the gorgeous Victorian coastal town of Rye
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Abuzar Mazoori didn't have a car. He was also, understandably, perplexed that a stranger would offer him and his family a house without having ever met them before.  He talked it over with his family, enlisted a friend with a car, and after some negotiations eventually trusted that it would be fine.

Off they went, all 10 of them, to the beach house with its three bedrooms and ample blow-up mattresses. They spent a week there in the height of summer having the Australian beach-house experience.

Meanwhile, the church volunteer kept the news of her guests close to her chest.

"I didn't tell many people at all because I thought I might get some sort of a negative reaction, " she said.

"I didn't even tell all my family members. My husband was very supportive... my daughter, who is living and working in London, said, 'Good on you, Mum'.

"But I excpected people would think I was a bit foolish, so I kept my mouth shut. I didn't ever expect it to come to the surface."

Helen and her husband Moss travelling overseas in 2016

It was a week that changed her.

Since their return, the refugee family have hosted Helen and her husband for dinner.

"It was really lovely. I don't know the names of it, but one particular dish which is pretty national to them, was lovely. It was a bit like dumplings but not quite the same. Dumplings with fillings inside. One had pumpkin, one had meat, it was a lovely meal," she said.

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Despite the language barrier, she and her husband Moss spent an age sharing stories with the boys, and Helen showing photos of grandchildren with the women and girls of the family.

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It's funny how the world works sometimes. When a thought planted in the universe leads to the opportunity materialising; a manifestation of sorts. And Helen took it, right as it appeared on that Melbourne train.

"I've had this feeling that I wanted to connect with the Muslim community for some time, and offer them the hand of friendship, but I just didn't know how to do it." she says.

Since the exchange she's been inundated with positive feedback.

"People say to me 'I would like to do something like that' or 'It's something we should try and do'," she said.

Helen Fuller

"And I am a firm believer that it is the small things that make a difference.  There's often something you can do to offer the hand of friendship.

"If you do reach out to others, the small things do count."

As for the eavesdropping, she says she just might do it more often.

"You never know what might happen" she says.

Monique Bowley is the host of the Mamamia Out Loud podcast. It;s a weekly award-winning podcast with what women are talking about. It's everything from politics, to pop culture, to the things that make you go 'hmmmm'. Listen to the full episode here:

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