My time with Quaker Service Australia

Jackie Perkins, New South Wales Regional Meeting

My time with QSA has been extensive, full, very varied, and, for the most part, a sheer delight. The sheer delight part, as will come as no surprise to most of you, is not the organisation, its charts, policies and endless reviews, but the people. In that I am fully in agreement with Val Nichols who, as some may know, was one of its first administrators while QSA was in its growth phase, when she said “QSA is not ‘programs’ really, it is people”. And again, similar to Val, my lasting memory will be the faces and voices, the vibrant clothing, the wonderful smells of the cooking, the singing and laughter, and the delight in the faces of project participants in showing what changes they have made.

Jackie with project partner staff in Cambodia

I will always remember my time in Uganda where I saw the first young child with AIDS who was so very skinny and underweight when sitting next to a cousin of similar age, an image which has haunted me very much. Another strong image is of the woman with seven or eight children who felt so sad and concerned for me because I have no child of my own, and asked me in all seriousness if I would like to take one of her daughters to care for me? I remember the vibrant rhythm of the drumming, the strong smell of pineapples as they were being dried for export, the monkeys cheekily eyeing my bag for food possibilities, and the giggles of the women in the groups as they shared their stories with me. 

;;;And I remember the 7-year-old boy who was given a pair of gumboots to safely work in the school food garden and decided he wanted to also sleep with them on, he was so proud of them – Friends may remember seeing him on the Living Gifts catalogue a few years ago.  Zimbabwe I remember as the place where pure water in abundance could be retrieved from beneath a dry river bed by Dabane Trust technology, and I remember the squeals of delight from students at King George VI Centre as they played chase in their wheelchairs at frightening speed but with great accuracy and without fear.

In India, surprise, surprise, my memories include the time I got to stand up very close and personal to a large temple elephant and feed her huge soccer-ball size mounds of rice and vegetables; to learn how to wear a sari thanks to only 3 safety pins; try to walk while balancing a tray of vegetables on my head (not very successfully); and share something of my life working with herbal medicine in Australia with women doing exactly the same in exactly the same way in Tamil Nadu. This is also where I nearly lost my husband Grant as his popularity as household cook was universal among the group of jealous women. I remember school children who shared their knowledge of the local flora and fauna and laughed at my reluctance to cuddle a snake.

Jackie enjoying rapt attention at the Pitchandikulam BioResource Centre in Tamil Nadu.

From Cambodia where I have made so many visits, come fond memories of the skyline at sunset, especially over the Mekong and at Angkor Wat; trying so many different types of food items but never a spider or a cockroach even if fried and dipped in sugar; and walking among small crocodiles as they squeaked in communication with each other in the compound where they were being grown as income generation. I remember learning of the many different approaches to income generation from a people still with strong memories of times of such hardship, and the beaming smiles of pride as they showed me the changes they have been able to make as a result of project training and new-found opportunities. Such experiences are firmly embedded in my memory and will stay with  me for a long, long time. And I hope, with their giggles, they will remember my sad efforts to keep up with them or work alongside them, and as they tried to work out how I could not understand much of their language yet know what they were talking about!

Jackie distributes seeds to gardeners in Cambodia . . .

. . . and receives a gift of eggplant from a Cambodian grower.

I also value memories of the many First Nations People, and YM First Nations Peoples Concerns Committee who have shared so much with me, making me realise just how much more I have to learn to fully understand the issues.

I also feel very fortunate to have worked with some amazing colleagues, from whom I have learned a lot. We have been a small team, and experiences such as accreditation reviews build a stronger bond and sense of community which is always an advantage, and a privilege. And I do think I owe a great debt to John Dundas who for so many years has been a support, a sounding board, and a tireless worker even if his working hours as a late-night owl were so different to those of this early morning lark!

I would also like to express my thanks to the former committee in Hobart who shared so much information with Heather Saville, John Dundas and me when in 1999 we went to Hobart to learn about QSA, the many tentacled creature for which we had so recently agreed to take on its caring. I can honestly say for myself, at that time my sense of what was in store for the three of us, and the others on the committee at the time was minute in comparison to what eventuated. And those Friends helped us to learn and grow as a committee, thank you one and all.

Over the years, it has been my pleasure to serve Friends and QSA in a number of different roles, each one enabled me to share more of my own experiences and learn so much more, and meet Quakers in other countries undertaking similar work to QSA, for all of that I am very grateful. QSA has the support of a number of very committed followers, giving of their time, energy as well as Dollars. I am particularly grateful to all involved in running the Quaker Shop in Adelaide, a task of great complexity. There has also been an amazing list of Friends involved in supporting QSA over the years, too many to name individually, opening their gardens, selling jams and marmalades, running book stalls, art shows and concerts, all of which require a strong team effort. Some individuals have gone to extraordinary lengths to promote and support QSA – Mark Deasey with his Backhouse Lecture in 2002; the stitchers in Adelaide completing the QSA tapestry panel drawn up by Robin Sinclair; and Margaret Bywater, who until recently lived in Phnom Penh, was frequently able to drop everything to help QSA when asked and who has been such a personal support to me over the years. And then there is Heather Saville, who when it was suggested an update of former QSA Convenor Bill Oats’ brief history of QSA was a good idea, became so engrossed in the process and all that QSA had achieved that Friends in Deed became larger than we ever imagined, and the pamphlet grew to a book of 337 pages plus index!

So yes, QSA is about the people. My time with QSA’s office has come to an end, but it is not the end of QSA in my heart. I have had an amazing roller-coaster ride of highs and lows, and all have been learning points. I wish QSA success in the future, and am grateful to know that it is in good hands with Pia Reierson as Executive Administrator. There are so many issues affecting the world today, many issues for QSA to address where and when it can, moving towards the achievement of a more peaceful, equitable, just and compassionate world. 

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