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Council staff pay it forward to help change children’s lives

Colleagues at a Sydney council are donating part of their pay to support children in need overseas.

The group of 20 staff members at the City of Canterbury Bankstown in Sydney’s south-west are sponsoring five children in developing countries such as the Philippines, Honduras and Cambodia, through ChildFund Australia.

Council Team Leader of Environmental Protection and Compliance, Paul Choueiri, who helped create the group 18 years ago, says the number of staff supporters has grown significantly since the group was formed in 2003.

There were just three colleagues, including Paul, at the beginning. “It was a personal thing for all of us to give back to people who need it,” Paul says. “We recognised how lucky we were to be in a country like Australia.”

After researching and calling several different charities, the group settled on ChildFund Australia. “The amount of money getting to the children who needed it was a big thing for us,” Paul says. “We decided to go with ChildFund because they were upfront about how much goes towards the child and their community, and how much goes towards administration.”

It made sense to sponsor as a group rather than individually, says Paul. “The more people who sponsor together, the more children you can help,” he says. “As a group, the sky’s the limit. If I were to do this myself, I could probably only sponsor one or two children.”

Paul’s colleague Denise Theore, also one of the original members of the sponsor group at the City of Canterbury Bankstown, says the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need in developing countries. “With the COVID-19 situation overseas, it’s now more important than ever that we support these children and anyone else we can support,” Denise says. “We’re lucky here. It’s very sad to see what is going on in other areas of the world.”

Paul and Denise have been part of a group of child sponsors at City of Canterbury Bankstown council for more than 18 years. The group has grown from three to 20 members, and today sponsor five children in developing communities overseas.

Giving back to the community and helping people who are less fortunate has always been an important part of both Paul and Denise’s lives.

Paul regularly donates to charity and says he came to understand the importance of gratitude early on in his life.

“I try to help wherever I can,” he says. “My parents came to Australia from a war-torn country in the ’70s. They struggled with the English language and did the work that no one else wanted to do. They did it and pulled through; I learnt about the value of hard work and having an appreciation for a place like Australia and not forgetting that many people overseas are worse off.”

For Denise, helping others runs in in her family. “My father and sisters have sponsored children,” she says. “We’ve always tried to help and support people who are in need. Hopefully my children will continue as sponsors after I’ve gone.”

Paul and Denise co-ordinate the council group, writing letters and cards on behalf of the other members to the children they sponsor, and making sure that any updates they get in return are shared with the group.

A couple of times a year Paul and Denise will send out an email to rally more colleagues to join.

“We have around 1500 staff at the City of Canterbury Bankstown,” Paul says. “Even if every second person contributed a small donation every week, that’s a lot of children we could be helping.

“I hope we can continue to grow and be able to support more children.”

Paul says the positive impact a group of sponsors can have in the world outweighs the effort and time that goes into organising and managing such a group. He is encouraging others to start similar initiatives in their workplace.

“The major benefit of sponsoring as a group is where you can take it,” he says. “You just need one person to start; someone who will take on the extra little jobs: writing letters, scanning, photocopying, and emailing. It’s not a lot, but it’s about someone being bothered.

“If everyone who was better off did something for those people who were worse off, we could change so many lives.”

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