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  • Writer's pictureNicola Smart

Reflections on helping others

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

This week we hear from Robyn Johnston, Partner Housing Director and Office Manager and an invaluable member of the organisation. Robyn's history of helping others goes back a long way, and she shares the lessons and experiences she has had below.

I believe that helping others comes from my belief in Jesus Christ and through his teachings (1 Peter 4-10), “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s Grace in its various forms”. My husband (Rod) and I lived in Zambia from 1975 to 1976 – 45 years ago. I remember as a child my mother saying, “Do not waste your food, there are staving children in Africa”. As a child you think little of this type of statement by your parent. But later in life I saw this for myself in Africa and subsequent visits to India. It was true.

In Zambia I was not allowed to do paid work, so I volunteered at the local hospital in Lusaka. I taught basic English and maths and did craft with children who were there for treatment for various ailments. Their parents slept under their beds and had to bring all the food for themselves and their children. There were always families wailing in the outdoors areas, as quite often their child had died. I also volunteered at the YWCA and helped teach sewing to young girls, so that they could make their own clothes and also have a skill that would help them later in life and perhaps gain employment.

Robyn Johnston doing voluntary wok in Lusaka Hospital, Zambia, 1975.

It is very fulfilling to see that people are able to gain a skill that will benefit themselves and their family so that they will not be so reliant on charity in the future. This has been especially relevant during COVID 19. Our various projects in the Solomon Islands and PNG have continued. The local people have continued to work on them, even though our volunteers have not been able to travel to do the usual supervisory work.

There are many challenges in helping others. Language is one of them, and this can be difficult. Even though the other person may speak English, they do not always understand what you may mean. Also, culture is another obstacle, we may not understand why people live in a certain way, and we often (mistakenly) feel that they must change this to our way. Being sensitive can be very challenging until we realise that everyone is different. But in the end all people want the same thing. Somewhere safe to live, enough food for their family and education so that their children will have a better life.

I hope the work of PHA continues as long as it is able to with the resources available. I also hope that the people /countries that we help will not need our help in the future. They will become self-sufficient and will also be able to maintain and build their own homes, schools and community spaces. It is important that these community projects are able to withstand cyclones, floods, etc using the technology and skills that PHA volunteers have given them. I am very thankful for the opportunities that have been given to me to help others less fortunate than myself.

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